Does Anxiety Run In Your Family?


anxietywords-dreamstime_xs_44344929Is anxiety in your genes?

Even though researchers have spent years looking for it, they have NOT found any anxiety gene. Yet, we often do see a pattern of anxiety running in a family. Does that mean your anxiety is genetic?

Nature or nurture?

This debate really isn’t a debate at all anymore. These days most researchers have come to believe that nurture actually influences nature in important ways.

If a certain gene is present, it does not guarantee that the gene will be expressed or become active. Even identical twins who share the same DNA do not express all of the same characteristics.

In psychiatry, it is now pretty broadly accepted that less than half of your personality type and temperament, such as being prone to anxiety, is due to genetics (nature). The rest is due to all sorts of other factors based on your life experiences (nurture).

What is Epigenetics?

dna spiral

Epigenetics is the growing field of scientific study which explains how factors in your living situation and life experiences can trump your genetic makeup. Your life circumstances and experiences can even cause modifications to your genes! So changes you make now can actually change your genetics for future generations. Big stuff.

Remember: they haven’t actually identified any anxiety gene. But even if there was such a thing as an anxiety gene, and even if you were born with a genetic propensity toward anxiety… epigenetics tells us that you likely won’t actually develop anxiety unless you have been exposed to something in your life trigger it.

Does Anxiety Run in Your Family?

Did your parents, grandparents or siblings have anxiety? Anxiety is a learned behavior. It is a way of thinking, feeling and reacting. Kids pick up on this automatically and subconsciously. Anxiety can “run in the family” that way.

This is very common.

When one of my clients was a child, her mom constantly worried when she left the house. Mom was excessively cautioning her to “be careful… don’t get hurt…don’t be careless…watch out for this or that…” My client recalls hating that as a child and telling herself she would never be like that. Yet, today as an adult she realizes she has become a worry wart.

Sometimes Anxiety is Not Genetic At All

Regardless of genetic factors, anxiety can develop at any time in response to situational factors and stressful life experiences. Particularly childhood experiences that were stressful, traumatic or chaotic can be predictors of whether kids will have anxiety as adults.

The Good News: You Have Control

Whether anxiety is genetic, or a learned response, or results from difficult life experiences, you are not stuck with it. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other holistic, non-medication tools and techniques are highly effective treatments all types of anxiety, worry, and panic attacks.

And that’s true regardless of whether there is a genetic component to it or not! So don’t worry about whether it’s in your genes. And don’t buy into the myth that you are stuck with it because it runs in your family.

The right anxiety treatment can free you from anxiety and maybe even change your genes!

Afraid of Going to the Doctor?

“Can my anxiety and worry really spike my blood pressure when I am having it checked?”

I get this question all the time so if you have wondered about it yourself, you are not alone!

White Coat Syndrome

This is such a common occurrence that there’s a name for the condition. White Coat Syndrome includes many health care anxieties: fear of doctors and doctor’s offices, fear of having blood pressure taken, fear of needles or blood, fear of hospitals, and fear of any preventative/diagnostic testing.

Underlying these fears we often find nervousness or discomfort about painful procedures, fear of the unknown, fear of being vulnerable, discomfort about being naked and/or being touched, or fear of being lectured or made to feel stupid.

Avoidance of doctor appointments or medical procedures is the most common sign of this fear.

Your Thoughts Affect Your Blood Pressure

White Coat Syndrome may be most evident in your blood pressure reading. As many as 20% of Americans suffer from White Coat Syndrome, in which blood pressure surges when taken in the doctor’s office. I work with many clients who take their blood pressure at home and regularly find that it is significantly higher when taken at the doctor’s office.

How can this be?

Your brain and body are hard wired to protect you from danger. Worrying about going to the doctor indeed causes your brain to go on high alert watching for danger. This is part of the “fight or flight” response.

When the brain kicks off that worry, a natural physiological reaction occurs as adrenaline, cortisol and other stress chemicals are released into the body. The presence of excess stress chemicals can cause elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, sweating, chills or flush, tingling and other real physiological responses.

So, it is very true that worrying about your blood pressure reading can, in fact, cause a higher reading.

Fear of Bad News

Fear in a health care setting is perfectly normal since many of us associate doctors and hospitals with illness and death.

Many people face the double whammy of conflicting emotions regarding health care fears. First, there’s fear of the exam or procedure itself. On the other hand, there’s also fear of the consequences of NOT going in for checkups or NOT having something checked out. Nobody wants to hear bad news from a doctor.

The most common anxiety underlying White Coat Syndrome is the fear of a bad diagnosis. There’s also fear about being given lifestyle restrictions such as changes to eating, drinking, smoking or exercising.

Overcoming White Coat Syndrome

There are many proven methods for relieving health care anxieties. Here are some tips:

  • Name the worry. People often aren’t sure what they’re really anxious about. Identifying the specific worry is the first step to diffusing the power it has over you.
  • Face the worry. Dealing directly with fears and anxieties is what works to let them go. Avoidance only perpetuates the worry.
  • Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy done one-on-one with a counselor helps you name the worries and face them. CBT has been shown to be very effective is overcoming anxieties. It helps you shift your thoughts and reframe your state of mind to see things more rationally. It also teaches new coping techniques. This can prevent the physiological chain of events that causes higher blood pressure readings in the doctor’s office.
  • Learn new calming techniques. You want tools to relax the central nervous system as you prepare for and attend appointments. I teach my clients techniques such as Mindful Belly Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and Calm Mind Meditation, all of which are also found on my CD titled “Less Stress Now.”
  • Ask direct questions. Patients can feel more relaxed when they know what to expect. Even if the doctor is in a hurry, you deserve to have all your questions answered so be honest and don’t be intimidated.
  • Take someone with you. You can ask someone to go along and sit with you in the exam room. The presence of a trusted friend or family member can help you stay calmer and think more clearly. They can also be enlisted to help ask questions.
  • Consider seeking a new health care practitioner. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, you might want to find a new provider who creates a more calm and trusting environment. You deserve someone who spends time with you, answers all your questions, and makes you feel like he or she really cares about your well-being.

Is Anxiety A Chemical Imbalance?

“Is anxiety a chemical imbalance?”

“If anxiety is a chemical imbalance, then I need medication to treat it, right?”

I am asked these questions all the time, so let’s take a closer look at this.

What really causes anxiety? That depends on who you ask.

Nature or Nurture?

We know that risk for anxiety is increased if anxiety runs in your family, but scientists have not identified any “anxiety genes.” The correlation could be genetic or it could be environmental, or both. Many children are conditioned to be anxious if they live with anxious adults, or if they live in chaotic, stressful home environments.

Below are three of the main theories about the causes of anxiety. All have been scientifically studied. Nobody knows for sure that one theory is right, or that other theories are wrong.

The “Chemical Imbalance” Theory

This theory says that anxiety is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and you have to take a pill (likely for the rest of your life) to alter the chemical balance. Much of the scientific research to support this theory is paid for by drug companies, whose existence depends on the Chemical Imbalance Theory. They have trained doctors about it, and trained us through millions or billions of dollars worth of commercials and advertising.

The “Avoidance” Theory

Avoiding the things you fear is what causes anxiety. If you’re afraid of being trapped or closed in, you may avoid things like elevators and airplanes, and make sure you sit near doors or exit routes. When you’re anxious, you are likely avoiding a problem that’s bothering you and you’re not aware of it. The problem will have power over you as long as you keep avoiding it.

The “Thoughts Create Feelings” Theory

The feeling of anxiety is caused by negative thoughts: conscious and particularly sub-conscious. When you feel anxious, it is because you are telling yourself that something bad is going to happen. For example, if you have a fear of going into social situations where you would have to meet new people, you may panic and think “I’m going to make a fool of myself.” Your feeling of fear does not result from the actual social interaction, but from the negative messages you give yourself before, during and after.

Which Theory is Right?

Naturally, supporters of each theory believe they’re right. We can find scientific research to support many different theories.

Some people have a hard time believing anything other than the Chemical Imbalance Theory because it is so widely promoted. And because “my doctor said so.”

But the research also shows there is a “placebo” effect with pills, where many people think they feel better even when they are taking a sugar pill instead of the real medication.

Many neuroscientists no longer believe the Chemical Imbalance Theory. They are researching the neural circuits in the brain instead…and discovering how the neurons in our brain have the amazing ability to change and form new, anxiety-free thoughts.

Toolkits for Different Theories

When you see a doctor, counselor, or other practitioner for anxiety, the tools they have to offer you depend on what theory they believe in.

Chemical Imbalance Theory

–> Solution for anxiety = Take a pill to correct imbalance
–> Toolkit: Prescription medication (indefinitely)

Avoidance Theory

–> Solution for anxiety = Stop running and face the problem/fear
–> Toolkit: Exposure Therapy
                Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
                Mind-Body Techniques

Thoughts Create Feelings Theory

–> Solution for anxiety = Change your brain and the way you think
–> Toolkit: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
                Mind-Body Techniques

I work with lots of people who don’t want to take drugs for the rest of their lives. For some, anxiety medication is fine and provides the symptom relief they want. Others seek a more holistic and preventative approach, as medication does nothing to stop the source of anxiety or prevent it from returning again.

holisticanxietytoolkit-stencilThe Holistic Toolkit

I’m a very practical person. I’m more focused on WHAT WORKS than on any particular theory or figuring out which one is right.

I see a lot of people who have taken medication for anxiety and still have anxiety (that’s why they come to see me!). Many also dislike the negative side effects of drugs, and would prefer a drug-free approach.

And people are overcoming anxiety every day without drugs. It is happening right before my eyes in my office.

I see people take control over anxiety and make lasting changes with a combination of holistic tools that teach people effective ways to manage anxiety symptoms, along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to change the brain and thinking patterns, addressing the root cause of anxiety.

What Fits for You?

Know that there are different theories. Check in with yourself and see which theory makes sense to you. Be practical…what seems to work for you and what doesn’t? We are each unique. I don’t think that one generic solution fits all. Be open and willing to explore and you might find solutions for your anxiety that you never thought possible!

The Cure for Yo Yo Dieting

Dieting again?Bathroom Scale iStock_000001667800XSmall

Losing the same weight you’ve already lost before?

That’s Yo Yo Dieting. Been there done that.

Why Diets Don’t Work

We do what we do based upon the thoughts we think (conscious and subconscious) and the emotions we feel. Diets focus only on eating behavior, when the underlying thoughts and emotions are what really make or break success.

I don’t like the word “diet” because it usually represents a very temporary behavior. We temporarily change eating behavior until we either reach or abandon a goal.

But Yo Yo Dieting runs deeper than just the behavior. With repeated weight fluctuation over the years (and keeping several sizes of clothes in your closet to accommodate this), you set yourself up for perpetual dissatisfaction with yourself.

Diets don’t work because they focus on the behavior instead of focusing on the root cause of the behavior: your thoughts and emotions.

Your weight is always driven by what you think, believe and feel.

In working through my own history with fluctuating weight, I’ve developed passion and expertise in counseling people who want to get to the root of old patterns with weight/food, and stop sabotaging themselves.

I help people not only achieve and sustain their goal weight, but to feel better about themselves AT ANY WEIGHT. Diets don’t work when you can only be happy if you achieve a certain weight.

Most Common Causes of Yo Yo Dieting

  • Body image

Body image is what you think, believe and feel about yourself and your body. Yo Yo Dieters often think: “If only I lose these __lbs, then I’ll be happy.”

This kind of thinking sets up conditions for self-satisfaction or self-love (i.e. happiness). You need to eliminate the conditions. We all need unconditional self-love.

Love yourself first and the weight will drop off easily and stay off. Why? Your eating behavior will come from healthy, happy thoughts and feelings, leading to EASY healthy, happy eating behaviors! You gain power and the food loses the power it previously had over you.

According to a recent study, women who had counseling to improve their body image lost a higher percent of weight than those who did not see a counselor.

Yo Yo Dieters often tell me, “But I love food, that’s the problem.” Believe it or not, it is possible to love food AND maintain your ideal healthy weight. So if that’s not happening, it’s a sign that there’s another problem. Usually it’s a sign that underlying thoughts, beliefs and feelings (about self and about food) need to be changed.

Imagine loving yourself fully and without judgment or regret
no matter what the scale says. This is hard for many of us.

Put conditions on loving yourself and your weight will be a Yo Yo over time. When you come to love yourself as you are now, the food and the weight lose their emotional attachment. What you eat and what you weigh become choices driven by healthy, happy thoughts and feelings.

  • Comfort eating

Yo Yo Dieting is associated with emotional eating, or comfort eating. This happens when you’re not eating for hunger, or to fulfill physical needs, but to FEEL better. Ask yourself why you need to feel comforted by food?

I’ve heard countless stories of people reaching their goal weight and then gaining it back when they realize (mostly subconsciously) that life isn’t suddenly perfect, and they aren’t suddenly as happy as they thought they would be. This feels bad. Feeling bad and thinking bad go hand-in-hand, and this is a set up for self-sabotaging eating behavior.

Looking in the RefrigeratorThe vicious cycle: bad thinking and feeling lead to “bad eating,” self-sabotaging eating, then feeling bad about what you weigh or how you look (which feels bad), then eating because you subconsciously think food will get rid of that bad feeling, then feeling guilty or bad about what you ate, leading to more feeling bad about yourself and thinking you SHOULD be able to just get this under control but you can’t, maybe there’s something wrong with you, and on and on…

Comfort eating often comes into play because most of us were never taught healthy coping skills for managing stressful/upsetting emotions.

The Cure for Yo Yo Dieting

Changing the underlying thoughts, beliefs and feelings…
that are creating the behaviors…
that are creating undesirable results.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is designed for this. CBT is a particular form of counseling that targets unhelpful thoughts. You learn to take control of negative body image and emotional eating by gaining understanding and control of your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and the behaviors that follow.

I’ve found CBT is incredibly effective for my clients, in combination with holistic solutions to managing difficult emotions and stressful situations.

“I can’t believe how easy it is now to lose the weight!”

It was a joy to hear one of my clients say this the other day. She knows it’s because she now has her thoughts and feelings (about herself and about food) under control. She’s in charge now.

Travel Anxiety

Stock Photo by Sean Locke

Anxieties about travel are one of the most common problems I deal with.

Just the thought of traveling can bring on symptoms of anxiety, such as heart palpitations, stomach upset or diarrhea, restlessness, shakiness or sweating.

What Triggers Travel Anxiety

You can learn to manage your reactions more effectively when you can identify and recognize your specific triggers. Some common triggers for travel anxiety include:

  • Worry about leaving home/being away from home
  • Fear of the unknown/unfamiliar places
  • Worry about being injured or ill when away from home
  • Fears relating to car travel
  • Fear of not being able to leave once you get somewhere
  • Feeling like things are out of your control
  • Not knowing what to expect
  • Fear you won’t be able to handle unexpected situations that may arise
  • Fears relating to airplane travel
  • Upset about loss of usual routines and schedules
  • Fears about possible bad things that could happen (“what if’s”)
  • Discomfort in closed in places like cars, trains or planes

Getting Over Travel Anxiety

It is very possible to get over the specific fears and worries you may have about travel!

The best long-term solution for this is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help you understand your specific triggers and gradually change your response to the triggers.

Through this process, you can also learn numerous body-mind techniques that can help you immediately reduce or eliminate anxiety symptoms if they start to occur.

I have worked with many people who have stopped dreading travel and even starting looking forward to it.

What You Can Do on Your Own

Here are a few tips you can use before, during, and after a trip to help reduce anxiety:

Before Travel…

button Relax (image can be used for printing or web)

It can help to talk about an upcoming trip with friends. Discuss the itinerary ahead of time, especially focusing on things you are looking forward to. This can help prepare you for what to expect, and therefore ease your mind. By the time you arrive, your itinerary will be more familiar, allowing a sense of greater control.

Take your time preparing and packing. It’s important to stay relaxed and not feel rushed. Create a packing list well ahead of time, then check it off as you pack things. If you are worried about leaving home, take extra time to walk through the house before you leave, seeing how things are safe and secure.

Allow extra time as you prepare to leave. Be packed and ready to go well before it’s time to leave the house. Plan to arrive at the airport or train station early. Allow extra time in case of traffic delays. Feeling rushed can lead to feeling out of control which can cause anxiety to spike.

During Travel

Occupy your travel time with relaxation and/or distraction.

Be sure to have readily available plenty of things that help you relax, such as soothing music, relaxation CDs, or a good book. You can practice anxiety-reducing belly breathing anytime, anywhere (see my Ebook for instructions).

Distract yourself with handheld games, crossword puzzles, or by making small talk with others. Ask questions of other people, as listening to their answers can help keep your mind off your own concerns. A nap is a good way to pass travel time if you’re able – bring ear plugs and an eye mask.


Di Philippi - Stress Management in MexicoDon’t rush around during your trip. Trying to do it all can increase anxiety. Always allow plenty of time to fit in activities, allow for travel time between places, and enjoy leisurely meals. Plan for 8 hours of sleep to feel better prepared for each day.

Do your best to focus on one day at a time during the trip… don’t “pre-worry” about the return trip. Make sure you have time to pack for the return, reconfirm travel arrangements, and plan your time so the departure is not rushed.

When Panic Attacks: Part 2

At least 6 million Americans suffer from panic attacks.  They are very scary but (contrary to what you may think) they are not life-threatening.  Most importantly, they can be successfully treated with long-term results…without medication or side effects.

In this article (Part 2 of a series), I explain the treatment that is 80% effective for ending panic attacks, according to scientific research.  I have found an even higher rate of success in my work with clients.

If you missed Part 1 of my series on panic attacks in last month’s newsletter, you can read more on what panic attacks are, symptoms and causes here on my blog: When Panic Attacks: Part 1

First, What Doesn’t Work

Stress Meter Showing  Panic Attack From Stress And WorryIf you had a panic attack while driving on the freeway, the fight-or-flight mechanism in your brain will tell you to avoid the freeway in the future. Avoidance is the first thing everyone does in response to a panic attack.  Avoidance or Distraction.  But this doesn’t really work.

Avoidance or distraction may decrease anxiety in the short term, but in the long term it actually makes anxiety worse.  Avoiding also restricts your life and limits your options and thus, avoiding actually makes it feel MORE like you are losing control over your life.

It can be helpful to imagine your panic attacks as an external enemy that is trying to control you. If the panic prevents you from doing what you want to do, then the panic wins and becomes stronger. If you can do all the things you want to do in your life, then you win and the panic becomes weaker.

What Does Work: CBT

cbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a very specific type of treatment used by specially trained CBT therapists.  [Sidebar: I was trained at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This organization is run by Aaron Beck who is the creator of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – he will go down in the history books with Freud and other psychology leaders – way cool.]

The Cognitive part of CBT teaches you concrete strategies to transform the fearful thoughts about panic attacks.  Changing your thoughts automatically changes the way you feel and, therefore, reduces anxiety and panic. 

You learn to change your thoughts about feared situations, and most importantly, you learn to change your thoughts about the panic itself (the anxiety about the anxiety).

The Behavior part of CBT teaches you tool and techniques so you can face the anxiety-provoking situations instead of avoid them. You regain control.

And CBT takes less time than you think. Most of my clients start to see dramatic reductions in anxiety and panic attacks within weeks.

Scary Does NOT Equal Dangerous

Young woman with hands on eyes sitting depressed in carPeople who have panic attacks get anxiety about the anxiety because they often believe that their symptoms mean that they are having a heart attack or going crazy or losing control or that they are just plain broken or defective.  This catastrophic belief is not accurate.

The truth is that panic symptoms are neither dangerous nor a sign of heart problems or any other physical or psychological problem. 

The real problem is your catastrophic thoughts and beliefs themselves.

A thought/belief like “Oh no! What if I have another panic attack and have a heart attack or go crazy” is actually an inaccurate thought.  However, that thought anticipates danger (whether or not there really is danger, and there’s not) so the fight-or-flight mechanism in your brain surges into action, thereby creating more panic.

Just because you think a thought does not make it true.  So a key component of CBT is to teach you accurate information and teach you how to assess the accuracy of some of the scary thoughts.  You learn to shift catastrophic thoughts into accurate ones – the truth is a lot less scary than your catastrophic thoughts.

Long Lasting Relief with CBT

CBT provides long-term benefits because it is essentially a learning program. You learn specific strategies, tools and techniques for reducing anxiety and panic. 

Neuroscience research on CBT is so amazing.  It shows that through practice and repetition, the new tools help literally change the neural pathways in your brain that were connected to the panic.

New ways of thinking about and responding to panic feelings/situations become a natural part of the way you respond to life on an ongoing basis. 

You literally change the way your brain is wired to think.  Finally, you can take charge of your thoughts.

CBT for panic attacks is most successful for those with motivation to learn new tools and techniques, willingness to question inaccurate beliefs and learn new information, and willingness to practice doing things differently. 

The payoff is huge: regaining a sense of control over your thoughts, your body, and your life.

When Panic Attacks: Part 1

Stress Meter Showing  Panic Attack From Stress And WorryPanic attacks are an extreme form of anxiety that include very scary physical symptoms.  People having a panic attack often fear they are having a heart attack, fear they will stop breathing, or fear they will go unconscious. Thus, they often end up in the Emergency Room and go through lots of testing, only to be told there is nothing physically wrong with them.

Panic attacks are different than other kinds of anxiety because they come on suddenly and include a sudden rush of intense fear or discomfort, along any combination of these common symptoms:

Physical Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • Heart palpitations or racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feelings of choking

Fear Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • Fear of having heart attack
  • Fear of fainting
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going insane, crazy
  • Fear of losing complete control
  • Fear that something is just wrong with me, I’m defective in some way

When Does Panic Attack?


• Sometimes panic attacks come on “out of the blue,” even when you are sleeping or sitting and feeling relaxed, such as watching TV. 

• They can also be tied to specific situations, often where you feel trapped, or become afraid you may not be able to escape or find help.  Examples include:

Stock Photo by Sean Locke

  • crowded or small places
  • traffic jams
  • unfamiliar places
  • places far away from home
  • confined spaces like elevators
  • rooms where it feels like there’s no easy exit
  • driving on the freeway

• Major life transitions can also bring on anxiety and panic attacks, even for those who never had anxiety before.  Major life transitions are inherently stressful: graduating from college, getting married, having a first child, being laid off from a job, losing a loved one, and so on. 

• If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, panic attacks can be triggered by things that remind you of the traumatic situation.

What is the Biggest Cause of Panic Attacks?

Once you’ve had a panic attack, the fear of having another one starts to take over.  Anxiety grows as fear of another panic attack grows.

It is very common that people get anxiety in any situation where a panic attack has occurred before.  Also, expectations or predictions that panic symptoms (such as diarrhea or sweating) will occur actually can cause symptoms to occur.

The biggest cause of panic attacks is the fear of the panic attacks themselves.

Getting Rid of Panic Attacks

You do not have to live with panic attacks! 

6 million American adults live with panic attacks, even though panic attacks are highly treatable! [Don’t be one of them!!]

In truth, it is extremely hard to get rid of panic attacks on your own.  And taking medication for panic attacks may or may not provide some immediate relief, but medication does nothing to prevent another panic attack in the future.

Research shows that CBT is highly effective for 80 percent of people who have had panic attacks.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for panic attacks has the highest success rate of any treatment for any psychological issue. 

This means panic attacks are the #1 most treatable problem!  That means treatable and preventable, without medication!

Want More Info on CBT?

In Part 2 of this article (coming soon), I will explain how and why CBT works specifically for treating panic attacks.

In the meantime, you may want to learn more about CBT in general in these articles:

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
Why Does CBT Work (for Anxiety and More)?
#1 Most Effective Anxiety Treatment: CBT

Affirm Yourself

Can you think of anything more powerful than words? Words create love and peace, as well as war. Words trigger your emotions and directly affect your mood. Words impact your self-concept and how you see the world around you. Words constantly program our minds the way commands and scripts program computers.

The question is whether or not your existing programming supports you in feeling good about yourself and life. We can all learn to more consciously choose our thoughts. One way to do this is by using affirmations: positive words or phrases repeated over and over to “affirm” a single thought. Repetition is required in order to reprogram old thinking which may have been in your mind for years. The scientific explanation is that the new affirmations start to create new neural pathways in the brain to allow new, expansive ways of thinking. The good news is that the brain is capable of change!

Use “I” statements in the present tense to create a powerful affirmation, such as:

I am powerfulalliswell-writteninsand-stencil
I am worth loving
I have many talents
I trust the process of life
I appreciate my healthy body
I am open to ever-increasing income

Now repeat it to yourself as often as you can throughout the day. Use it to counter negative thoughts when they come up (and they will). Post it on your bathroom mirror. Write it on little sticky notes to yourself. Have fun with it!

For more on powerful affirmations, check out the work of Louise Hay who is one of the masters of affirmations. I love her daily calendar to start each day with a powerful, positive thought. 

Anxiety Busting With A CBT Tool: 3 Guesses

Would soup cause you anxiety? One of my clients suffered through a whole day of asoup-stencilnxiety, worrying about getting a batch of soup completed for a neighborhood meal swap. Nothing was going right and she got very anxious, worried she wouldn’t get the soup done in time.

The next day I asked her what she had been thinking that had caused so much anxiety? Somewhere in the back of her mind she was worried that “if I don’t get this soup done on time, I’ll be a failure.”

Maybe soup would not have caused anxiety for you, but I bet you can think of something which may sound just as silly now but which caused you a lot of anxiety at the time.

Thoughts Create Feelings

The thought that “if I don’t do xyz, I’ll be a failure” would naturally create a lot of pressure and anxiety feelings!

So we used a simple but powerful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tool which I call “3 Guesses” to find out whether that thought about being a failure if the soup didn’t get done was really accurate or not.

Often times, anxiety is caused by inaccurate or illogical thinking. By learning to shift your mind to more accurate thinking, you inevitably feel better and reduce anxiety.

3 Guesses: Step-by-Step

First you must identify the anxiety-provoking thought. In this case:

Anxiety thought = “If I don’t get this done on time, I’ll be a failure.”

Next, follow this 3 step process to check on the accuracy of anxiety thinking:

First Step

Ask yourself: Is that true?
The first step is to question that anxiety thought. Is it really true that if you don’t get this done on time, you’ll be a failure? The problem is that when anxiety hits, it FEELS true. But there is a big difference between it FEELING true versus it being actually true and accurate.

So you move on to Step 2…

stepbystep-stencilAsk yourself: Can I be 100% certain that the anxiety thought is really true?

Honestly, there are very few things in life that we can actually be 100% certain about, right? So asking this question engages the logical, rational part of the mind. CBT helps you leverage the power of your rational mind to reduce anxiety.

Can I be 100% certain that if I don’t get this done on time that I am a failure? While it might FEEL true, your logical mind knows better. So you can’t really be 100% certain that it’s true.

And then on to Step 3…

Now name three things that could be equally or more true than the original anxiety thought.
Now you will use your logical, rational mind to come up with three possible different thoughts that could be even more true about the situation. Examples:

1. If I’m late with the soup, there’s a good chance one of the other parents could be late too.

2. If I’m late with the soup, I could apologize and my neighbors would probably understand because I’m sure they’ve been late themselves at times.

3. If I’m late with the soup, my neighbors probably will not get mad at me and probably won’t think I’m a failure.

Here you have three other thoughts that could be equally or more true than the original anxiety thought [“If I don’t get this done on time, I’ll be a failure.”]

Better Thoughts = Better Feelings

cbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364And every one of those 3 possible thoughts FEELS better than the original anxiety thought. CBT is designed to use your logical, rational mind to question anxiety thoughts. CBT is effective to reduce anxiety because it helps you get to a more accurate thought.

3 Guesses is not Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – it is just one small CBT tool used by CBT therapists to help your brain to see that there other possibilities which are at least as true (or more true!) your original anxiety thought. This automatically reduces the power the anxiety has over you.

Once my client could change her thought (that she was a failure), the anxiety feeling started to go away.


What is YOUR “soup”?

What thoughts do you have that cause you feelings of anxiety? Thoughts that make you jump to the worst-case scenario? Thoughts that keep you stuck in negative thinking?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works to get rid of anxiety by helping you learn ways to take control of your thinking. That’s how you get to the root of what’s causing anxiety in the first place. And that’s why CBT is the #1 most effective treatment for anxiety!  

Anxiety and “Stinking Thinking”

Most people with anxiety have a tendency toward negative thinking. In a situation where someone else might think “Oh, this could be a minor inconvenience,” you may think it would be awful or it could wreck your mood or even wreck your day.

Such negative thoughts come automatically, and seem real or plausible in that moment – even though they are not necessarily logical or accurate. I call these “thinking errors” or “mistaken thinking.”

Cognitive Distortions

accuracy level conceptual meterIn Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), many of the negative thought patterns associated with anxiety are called Cognitive Distortions. As the name implies, they are thoughts that have become inaccurate, irrational or illogical (i.e. distorted) …usually without you realizing it.

Cognitive distortions are thoughts biased toward the negative, even when there is little or no evidence to support the negative.

That’s “stinking thinking” because it makes you feel worse (or more anxious) rather than better. Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind “tricks” us into believing that something is true when it really isn’t.

That kind of negative thinking has a snowball effect –one negative thought leads to another, then another, then another. Cognitive distortions create a downward spiral of more and more negative thinking, worry and “what ifs.”

Common Cognitive Distortions that Cause Anxiety

See if you are using any of these distorted ways of thinking…

  • Catastrophizing: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.
  • Overgeneralization: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events. “I felt awkward during my first job interview. I am always so awkward.”
  • Mind reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence. “He would not go on a date with me. He must think I am ugly.”
  • Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. One might believe their own achievements aren’t that important, or that their mistakes are excessively important.
  • Fortune telling: The expectation that a situation will turn out badly without adequate evidence.
  • What If: You keep asking a series of questions about “what if something happens” and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers.
  • Should statements: Interpreting events in terms of what you think they should be instead of simple as they are. “I should always be calm.”
  • All-or-nothing thinking: Thinking in absolutes such as “always”, “never”, or “every”. “Things never work out for me.” Black or white thinking.
  • Personalization: The belief that one is responsible for events outside of their own control. “My mother is always upset. It must be because I have not done enough to help her.”
  • Jumping to conclusions: Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence.
  • Disqualifying the positive: Recognizing only negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive. One might receive many compliments on an evaluation but focus on the single piece of negative feedback.

CBT Is the Answercbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364

CBT is a practical, highly effective treatment designed to help you reduce anxiety by teaching more effective ways of thinking. To do this, it is first necessary to examine your thoughts and identify the ones that are actually cognitive distortions, or “stinking thinking.”

With a CBT therapist, you learn to: 1) correctly identify cognitive distortions and “stinking thinking;” and 2) respond to the negative thinking by refuting it with more accurate and logical thoughts.

By refuting negative thinking over and over again, the neural pathways in your brain literally change and the negative pattern diminishes over time.