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.

Insomnia Technique Bettter Than Counting Sheep

Insomnia from anxiety, worry or thinking too much?  Counting sheep is way too boring for your magnificent brain.  Try this technique instead:

Close your eyes and imagine drawing a big circle. 

• Inside the circle write the number 100 very carefully.  The number must touch the edge of the circle just barely and can’t go outside the circle. 
• Then write the word “deeper” outside of the circle.
• Now erase the number very carefully, as if your eyes were an eraser.  Be careful not to erase any part of the circle, just the number itself.
• Next write 99 in the circle
• Then trace the word deeper
• Erase 99
• Next write 98 in the circle
• Then trace the word deeper
• Erase 98
• Repeat and keep counting down backward until you fall asleep

P.S.  I’ve never made it to the 80’s!

Make a Worry Box

Part of the problem with worry is that it rolls around and around in your head.  It’s the hamster on the wheel.  Or the monkey mind that keeps you awake in the middle of the night.

Try getting those worries out of your head and into a Worry Box.  Take any box and decorate it as you like and put a label on it:  Worry Box. 

When you identify a worry, write it on a piece of paper and put it in the worry box.  When your monkey mind wants to worry about it, go get the piece of paper out of the box.  Make a rule for yourself: You can only worry about it while you are sitting there with the paper in hand, sitting next to your Worry Box.

This technique works well in combination with setting aside “worry time.” [Read more about that HERE.] 

Write Down Your Great Things

worry-stencil-default-1Worries are thoughts about negative things that may or may not happen in the future.

To combat worry, write down the positive things that are actually happening in your life now.

Research at the University of Chicago shows that writing down your positive feelings for a few minutes had these results:

• significantly lowered worry
• reduced harmful cortisol levels
• raised performance on tests on memory and critical thinking skills

4 Steps to the Perfect Holiday

perfectionismsign-stencilStriving to create the perfect holiday this season? Let me suggest a different approach.

Let’s start with 4 simple mantras:

Repeat after me:
1. There is no perfect holiday
2. There is no perfect holiday meal
3. There is no perfect gift
4. There is no perfect family

Permission to Let Go of Holiday Perfectionism

The theme here is to let yourself off the hook this holiday season. So many people (women especially) feel stress and pressure to create some idyllic holiday for their families.

Having a lovely, fun, enjoyable holiday is a great goal, but this goal goes awry when it leans to the extreme.

Everything really does NOT have to be perfect to enjoy the holiday season.

1. There is no perfect holiday

It seems so obvious but there is no such thing as a perfect holiday. Let go of the Norman Rockwell or the June Cleaver holiday. After all, they ARE fiction.

You (or others) may reminisce about “perfect holidays” of the past, but you are probably using selective memory. Since there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, there undoubtedly were imperfections but they are forgotten. In the big scope of things, they weren’t important enough to register in your memory.

The details are not as important as you think, and imperfections are expected and are forgettable.

2. There is no perfect holiday meal

The meal really isn’t the reason for the season, right? Then why do many of us focus so much on having the perfect meal? Sharing a meal can be a great time of community and connection. But it’s really the community and connection that matters.

Sure, having the favorite holiday dishes is fun. Could the holiday be fun without the cheesy crab puff appetizer or the chilled shrimp or 15 different kinds of cookies?

At my house, if the mashed potatoes are lumpy (i.e. not perfect) someone will complain. Complainers can turn a meal holiday into a drag if you let them. Don’t let them. Just expect a complaint, and then choose to not take it personally. Chalk it up to a predictable complaining complainer and nothing else. Then choose to let that roll off your back.

3. There is no perfect gift

giftswhite-dreamstimefree_3679200One of my clients created anxiety for herself starting in November, worrying about picking out the right gifts and spending excessive (and unhappy) time shopping for those “perfect gifts.”

She felt pressure to get it right, and guilty if she didn’t. Where is the joy in that? That kind of pressure and emphasis on the “perfect gift” deprives yourself of the joy of giving.

One way I’ve made gift-giving easier and more joyful for me is to request a specific gift list. My niece even sends me web links to items she likes, including size and color. My family knows that if they don’t provide a list, they may not get a gift. So…they give me lists!

I love the joy of easier shopping, and knowing I will be giving something they want. And if they need to return or exchange it, I give them the receipt and I don’t take it personally. All is well.

P.S. Don’t forget the most important person on your gift list: YOU! http://wellnesscounselingmilwaukee.com/gift-yourself/

4. There is no perfect family

familystickdrawing-dreamstimefree_4342789While holidays traditionally are family times, family dynamics often cause stress. You are not the only one who does not have a perfect family. Is there such a thing? The version of “perfect” that most of us dream of is probably not realistic.

You are who you are, and your family is what your family is. A “perfect” holiday or meal or gift isn’t going to change that. Finding some peace and acceptance of that allows more joy into your holiday. Resisting what is, or wishing your family was different, only creates more angst for you.

Perfect Imperfection

The best holiday de-stressor is to let go of any conscious or subconscious pressure to create a picture-perfect holiday. Let it be what it will be. Look for the places you can find joy. And peace. Do your best to focus on what is really important to YOU. Do your best to let the rest roll off your back.

The “perfect” holiday is actually the one where you embrace and allow imperfection.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

laughingoldman-stencilYour brain gets feedback from your face—so if you force yourself to smile, you may actually feel better. There’s lots of research showing that smiling (even fake smiling) actually causes a happier mood.

Anxiety and worry causes lots of frowning which creates tension in the face, neck and jaw. Smiling lightens things up as it takes less muscles to smile than to frown, plus smiling uses different muscles which reduces tension.

Ponder This…

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

Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it never gets you anywhere.

Write Down All Possible Silver Linings

Cats always land on their feet when they fall (even big, unexpected falls). When you are anxious or worried about a situation in your life, imagine you are the same way.  Tell yourself you will land on your feet – you will be okay in the big picture of life.

writing-stencilTo help you step back from the problem, sit down with a paper and pen and don’t get up until you have written down at least 3 possible silver linings that might possibly come out of the difficult situation. 

Three is minimum – more is better.

Example: if you have anxiety or worry about losing your job, what possible silver linings that might possibly come out of that? 

 

1. Maybe you’d be happy to be rid of stress from that overly stressful job…

2. Maybe you’d end up finding a job you like equally well or maybe even more.

3. Maybe it presents the chance to go back to school… maybe you’d decide to follow your dream of starting your own business…

Maybe…

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.”