“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 StatisticsData
Percent of Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions45%
Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution8%
Percent who never succeed and fail on their resolution each year24%
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.

Want to be FREE?

We all want to be FREE…

Free to DO what we want.
Free to BE who we want to be.
Free to be HAPPY living a life we love.

Yet we often feel as if something is stopping us from truly feeling free.

This morning, despite a super busy schedule and a daunting “To Do List,” I chose freedom to take a break and admire the daylillies in my garden. This is one of my joys of summer. Their season is short and each blossom lasts for one short day. So I chose to allow myself to be FREE to enjoy and admire the blossoms of the day – even though my mind said I “should” have been handling all the things in my Inbox, or doing one of the dozens of things on my growing “To Do List.”

FreeGuess what? When you die your Inbox will still be full and you’ll still have a “To Do List.” The time to be FREE is right here and now.

So today I allowed myself the luxury of a few minutes of peace and happiness admiring my lillies – no guilt, no thinking about the Inbox. Just enjoying the moment and smiling.
For me, that felt FREE.

What do you mean by “Free?”

“Free” can be defined (with the help of dictionary.com) as: the state of being at liberty rather than in confinement; immunity from external control or interference. I think of being free as having the luxury of choice because when you choose something you feel less confined, more in control.

Here’s how freedom starts:

                              You have to WANT it
                              You have to CHOOSE it
                              You have to ALLOW it

What do you want to be FREE of?

    • Burdens or obligations?
    • Continual worry?
    • Emotional eating or excess weight?
    • Stress or anxiety?
    • Overwhelm?
    • Obsessive thoughts or actions?
    • Depression?
    • Insomnia?
    • Clutter?

Now, what do want instead?

Figuring this out is sometimes half the battle. Clients often have a hard time telling me what it is that they really want. What they think of first are all the things they don’t want. If you didn’t have those things, what would you want instead that would make you feel more free?

Once you know what you want, then you choose it. Sounds simple; actually doing it requires re-learning some of your “old” habits of thinking. Let’s start with how you think of the concept of “choice.” Choice always leads to greater freedom.

Think There are Some Things You Have No Choice Over?

I challenge you to think again, and I know sometimes it’s not easy. The problem comes in when your mind is tricked into believing that you have no choice. No choice about the responsibilities, the diagnosis, worry, anxiety, emotional eating, depression, clutter, etc.

The truth is that you always have a choice, even when it feels like you don’t. Even when you do something you don’t really want to do (like staying up late to finish that cleaning, going to the doctor, or doing that one thing that “needs” to be done), you ARE actually making a choice to do it.

You could always make a choice to NOT do it. It’s just that there would be consequences of making that choice and because of the consequences, you choose to do it. Understanding this leads to a much greater sense of empowerment than feeling like you had no choice in the matter.

Choosing is always more empowering than feeling like you “have to” or that it simply has to be a certain way. Choosing always feels better than living with something because you think you “need to” or “must.”

Re-training Your Mind: Part 1 = Choosing

The key to feeling free is to expand your awareness of your choices, and realize you are constantly making choices that are YOUR choices. Realize that there are many choices which at first may not appear to be options. This requires developing a new skill: re-training your mind to think differently and expand your choices. It takes skill, time and practice to start seeing choices where previously you couldn’t see any.

Example…

Let’s say you “have to” pick up your daughter from school immediately due to sudden illness. It really feels like you “must” do this because your child is ill and the school says you “must” take your daughter home immediately. But to do it, you’ll have to leave work in the middle of a very important customer meeting which will probably mean your company loses business from this customer (which is entirely unacceptable to your boss).

trueHonestly, you always have choices:

  • Leave and pick her up?
  • Ask someone else to pick her up?
  • Pay someone to pick her up?
  • Have a taxi pick her up?
  • Have her take the bus home?
  • Wait and pick her up after this meeting?
  • Wait and pick her up at the end of the day?

Can you brainstorm others? Your mind may have immediately discarded some of those choices and judged them as not viable. Realize you actually make split-second evaluations of the consequences of every choice. Some consequences you prefer over others. Then you choose. You don’t “have to” do any one of them. You choose one that you’ll do.

When the choice is yours, I promise you will feel more free no matter which choice you make.

Now you’re in the driver’s seat of your life, instead of letting people or circumstances or old, limited thought patterns dictate your life.

Re-training Your Mind: Part 2 = Allowing

Once your mind learns to generate more choices and to consciously choose, the next skill is ALLOWING the freedom. Like I allowed the luxury of being with the lillies without guilt or worry about what wasn’t getting done, you can re-train your mind to accept your choice. No second-guessing, no analysis-paralysis, no regret, no guilt, no worry. Simply allow your choice to be and to unfold. This re-training takes practice. Accept your choice and enjoy it as much as you can, knowing it came from your power to choose. Stay in the present moment with it as much as you can.
In the allowing is where you can really experience feeling free.

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.  

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.