Why Are You So Hard On Yourself?

Are you your own worst critic?

What happens when you make a mistake? Are you hard on yourself? Blame yourself? Call yourself names?

What happened to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”? Why do we forget the love thyself part? Most of us are not comfortable with that. We feel selfish if we love ourselves. We give our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, but not ourselves.

Compassion and Self-Compassion

What is compassion? Sympathetic awareness of another’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

When your friends and loved ones are hurting or dealing with difficult situations or difficult emotions, compassion means offering them love and support and wishing them easier times. [Love thy neighbor]

What is self-compassion? Responding to yourself with the same kindness, care, and support that you would treat another person that you care about. [Love thyself

It’s so much easier to be objective with someone else. Most of us are overly self-critical. Why?

Internal name calling, negative self-image, and negative self-talk often come from things you experienced in the home you grew up in as a child.

The problem NOW is that thought patterns and beliefs which developed when you were a child feel like they are the truth after all these years of believing them. Just because they feel true does NOT mean they ARE in fact, true and accurate. Time to question them!!

Is Lack of Self-Compassion the Source of Your Anxiety?

Clients often come to my office unsure of why they are having so much anxiety. Many times, the source of anxiety is actually their own negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves:

* Worry about not being good enough
* Questioning whether they are doing enough
* Bothered by what they think other people think

Do any of these sound like you:

We spend way too much time thinking about all the ways we’re not good enough and not enough time acknowledging all the ways that we are perfect – just the way we are!

* The mom who runs herself ragged, worried about whether she is doing enough. Should she be doing more? Do other people think she should be doing more?

* The student whose self-esteem comes from grades and performance and how she ranks, worried about being a failure if she doesn’t get A’s on everything.

* The retiree who can’t allow herself to slow down, relax and enjoy retirement. She thinks she should be doing more, she should have a more important purpose in life, and should be busy all the time to prove it.

* The athlete whose self-value comes from whether or not she wins or loses. Winning and being THE best are only ways to show or validate that she is good enough.

Of course it causes a lot of anxiety to question yourself all the time, to wonder if you are doing enough, and therefore worry…are you a good enough person?

Why We Resist Self-Compassion

According to Kristin Neff, PhD, a leading researcher in the field, it’s the firm belief that being kind to yourself will undermine your motivation.

If I don’t push myself to succeed, I won’t reach my goals.
I’ll get lazy. I’ll be a failure.

Or so we tell ourselves. And most of us fear failure more than anything.

Research actually shows that people who are more self-compassionate tend to achieve more, be more courageous in the face of risk, and are more resilient because they do not give up. They keep trying because they can tolerate the occasional times of failure or mistakes, without deciding that these things mean they are a bad person.

“When we judge ourselves harshly…” notes Kristin, “we start to lose our self-confidence and become more afraid of failing.” It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s also common to hold a firm belief that self-compassion (a form of self-love) is selfish. It is not selfish. It is not narcissistic.

Research suggests the opposite. This is not a self-centered practice. Self-compassionate people are better able to take the perspective of others, and are perceived by others as connected and responsive and caring.

Give It A Try

All good comes from self-compassion. There is no downside. Include yourself in the circle of compassion that you probably extend to your loved ones automatically and naturally. You deserve it.

5 Ways Stress Prevents Weight Loss

Tis the season when many of us are focusing on losing weight.

Whatever you do, please don’t go on a diet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: diets don’t work. If you are tired of yo-yo dieting, then you know what I mean.

95 to 98% of dieters regain the weight they lost. Does this ring true for you?

Stress and anxiety are huge, huge contributors to:

1. Inability to lose weight
2. Weight gain
3. Inability to keep weight off
4. Inability to maintain ideal weight
5. Overeating

Let’s look at the top reasons why…

1. Emotional Eating

We are actually hardwired to eat when we’re under stress. So stress and emotional eating are often major contributors to inability to lose weight.

This comes from the brain’s evolutionary process; from a time when fight-or-flight was a necessary daily survival skill for cave people. The energy gained from the extra food calories could help the body react and survive in the threat of sabertooth tigers.

Your brain still has that ancient wiring which unconsciously tells you to eat when you feel stress or anxiety.

Food is often used for many reasons completely unrelated to physical hunger: distraction, boredom, avoidance, comfort, love, filling a void, control, anger, anxiety, depression, avoidance of emotions, body image worries, shame. The list could go on and on.

Until you resolve the underlying emotions and related stress, emotional eating will always sabotage weight loss.

Are you an Emotional Eater? Take this QUIZ.

2. Worrying, Sleeping… Leptin and Ghrelin

Stress and anxiety alter the hormone leptin (“the satiety hormone”) which is supposed to tell your body to stop consuming food when you become full. Stress creates an imbalance which prevents that message from coming through, thus causing overeating and bingeing.

Conversely, stress and anxiety cause increases in your levels of ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”). Ghrelin is produced in your stomach and is supposed to signal you that it is time to start eating. Stress and anxiety cause ghrelin to send excess hunger signals… this stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.

Sleep More and Worry Less

Studies show that shortened sleep time is associated with decreases in leptin and elevations in ghrelin. According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours (from WebMd).

Sleepless nights have a direct impact on brain regions that control decision making and make us more inclined to crave fast food rather than healthier options (from 2013 research at UC Berkeley, from Psychology Today).

Furthermore, a study published in the journal “Appetite” found that worry – just thinking about a stressful event in the future can cause you to eat more by increasing your levels of ghrelin.

3. Cortisol, Metabolism, and your Thyroid

With chronic stress or anxiety, your adrenal glands produce a cascade of hormones connected to your fight-or-flight response. You end up with an excess of adrenaline and cortisol (the main stress hormones).

High cortisol levels signal to your brain that it is time to go into fight-or-flight mode. Then three things happen:

1. Hunger increases.

2. Your thyroid reduces its hormone production and thus slows down your metabolism.

3. Energy, fat, and calories are stored to avoid starvation, and also to conserve energy (in case you need to fight that sabertooth).

Stress ==> more cortisol

==> hunger and increased appetite =

no weight loss and more belly fat

4. Stress, Insulin, and Blood Sugar

Another part of the hormonal cascade that occurs due to stress or anxiety is imbalance in insulin levels. Did you know that insulin was a hormone?

Increases in cortisol caused by stress also can cause higher insulin levels. Insulin regulates your blood sugar. When insulin levels are off, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.


Stress ==> blood sugar drops

==> food cravings =

weight loss sabotage

5. Stress and Mood – Tryptophan and Vitamin B

Stress and anxiety are both very correlated with low mood and depression. And those things are correlated with weight gain. It creates a vicious cycle.

The more stress and anxiety you have, and the lower your mood, the more likely you are to have food cravings and eat foods that will actually perpetuate the problem.

You might benefit from a boost in serotonin, which is the brain’s feel-good chemical. What most people don’t know is that 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced and stored in your gut.

You can help your gut produce serotonin by increasing a particular amino acid called tryptophan. Foods high in tryptophan can help with mood and are also stress-reducing.

When people feel stressed or anxious and their blood is measured, they tend to have high levels of lactate in their blood. Foods high in B vitamins help stabilize the body’s blood lactate levels, and have a calming effect on your nervous system.

Tired of Diets that Don’t Work?

If you are tired of yo-yo dieting, try a different approach.
Focus on one of the biggest root causes of the problem: stress and anxiety. Read about HOW on my blog:

Emotional eating, Top 5 holiday sabotages, why diets don’t work, what does work
• #1 most effective solution for stress and anxiety, the one and only resolution you ever need

If you always do what you always did…
You’ll always get what you always got.

Stop Watching The News

I see a correlation between worry and watching the news on TV. I stopped watching the evening news years ago. The only news show I watch is CBS Sunday Morning. It focuses on positive, uplifting and interesting news features, while spending a very short time noting top news from the week.

The evening news is the worst to watch. The mostly negative and fear-based news increases anxiety (and adrenaline and cortisol production!) at the time when you really need your brain and body to calm down for bedtime.

If you are a worrier who worries about current events and associated negative “what if” thoughts, then you have even more reason to stop watching the news.

What Are You Looking Forward To About Fall?

What are you looking forward to about Fall? (And what does that have to do with anxiety?)

I’m sitting outdoors right now on my patio writing this on the 3rd official day of Fall. And it is over 90 degrees here in Wisconsin! I’m doing my best to “carpe diem” and make the most of what are probably the last hot days of the year.

I love summer…my favorite season. So when the question above was posed to me, it threw me for a little loop. Looking forward to Fall? I feel more like I have been struggling to hold onto this gift of Indian Summer, and postpone my mourning of the end of summer.

Today I heard the question on the “CBS Sunday Morning” show: What are you looking forward to about Fall? According to their survey, people are looking forward to things like Halloween, leaves changing, Thanksgiving, and football.

I had to think long and hard about what I could look forward to about Fall. And why I should!

Why Should I? (And why should you too?)

Focusing on the future is one of the things that can often increase anxiety. Anxiety is always about either the future (worry) or the past (regrets or second-guessing).

The uncertainty of the future can trigger worry. “What if” worries/thoughts about the future are common. Add that to the human brain’s negativity bias, which exaggerates negative thinking, and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety.

But the whole idea of “looking forward to” something is different. It helps distract your mind from worry and negative thoughts, by pairing the future with a positive thought.

The distraction, and the positive pairing, gives your mind something else to focus on. Learning how to redirect or restructure negative thinking is a critical component of CBT, the most effective anxiety treatment.

So the concept of “looking forward to” is actually is a good tool for reducing anxiety, and helps boost your mood at the same time. So why not join me in trying it this Fall?

Here’s My List

1. Pumpkin Chai Tea
2. Pumpkin Spice anything
3. Organic Honeycrisp Apples

I just realized these are all about food. I’m not thrilled about that, but it’s a start. On a beautiful, warm day like today it is just too much of a stretch for my brain to fully embrace Fall. Today, my brain still wants to resist it. But we have to start somewhere. I can truly feel positive about those 3 things – and then I can build on MORE positive things to look forward to about Fall later.

Where can YOU start? What can YOU look forward to about Fall?



Anxiety: Addressing Root Cause (not just symptoms)

Anxiety produces a lot of very distressing “symptoms.”

These include (but are not limited to):

 Headache
 Nausea
 Diarrhea
 Lightheadedness or dizziness
 Heart palpitations
 Breathing difficulty
 Chest pain
 Numbing & tingling (especially arms and legs)
 Sweating
 Chills or flush (hot flash)
 Trembling
 Choking
 Insomnia

So, of course you want to get rid of those symptoms. But you have a choice:

A) You could get rid of the symptoms ONLY for now; or

B) You could get rid of the actual source of the problem, preventing both current AND future symptoms.

A) The Symptom Approach

Doctors tend to ask about symptoms. They have a precious few minutes to assess your symptoms and diagnose your problem.

Often they don’t ask:

• WHY do you think you are having those symptoms?
• What was going on in your life when they started?
• What’s going on in your life now?
• What are you thinking about when you have those symptoms?
• How are you feeling emotionally when you have those symptoms?
• How is your job?
• How are you relationships?
• How is your financial situation?
• How happy and satisfied are you with your life?
• What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? What’s missing?
• What are your coping strategies?
• What stressful events are you facing at this time?
• What chronic stressful events have you been dealing with over the past 2 years?
• What support do you have (or not have) to help you work through current challenges?

I think they are missing out on finding the root causes of anxiety.

Actually, I’m not sure they are even looking for the root cause.

The primary tool they have to offer for anxiety is medication. Medication works at the level it is designed to work: at the symptom level – to give you some symptomatic relief.

Medication is NOT designed to resolve the root cause of anxiety.

That’s why people are told they have to be on medication forever. Anxiety medication does not prevent anxiety from coming back again….and again. So if that’s the only tool you’ve got, and then you stop taking it, your anxiety will likely come back. Thus, the dependence on it.

Have we lost sight of the real goal?

B) The Root Cause Approach

In my practice, the real goal is to put an end to the root cause of the problem.

Finally getting at the root cause of your anxiety automatically eliminates symptoms… and prevents them from coming back again and again.

 The latest and greatest neuroscience research is clear: The thoughts (neural pathways) and automatic responses (think fight-or-flight) in your brain are the root cause of anxiety.

Therefore, to resolve the root cause of anxiety you must: a) become aware of your thoughts and responses that create anxiety; and b) learn how to retrain your brain to think and respond differently.

Thus, it is no surprise that there are alternatives to medication which are proven by research to be equally or more effective than medication (with longer lasting results).

These have nothing to do with chemical imbalance. Instead, the most effective anxiety treatment addresses the root cause of anxiety thinking and anxiety responses in the brain.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the gold standard treatment for anxiety and panic attacks.

Skills Not Pills

Being free of pills for anxiety is very possible. I see it in my private practice every day. I have many clients who avoid having to start anxiety medication, as well as many who are able to taper off anxiety medication.

With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), my clients learn exactly how to regain control of worry, negative thinking, fear, panic, and the monkey mind of anxiety.

I empower my clients with holistic skills, tools, coping strategies, and natural drug-free methods for eliminating panic attacks, reducing anxiety and improving sleep.

When they learn the tools to both address symptoms and resolve the root cause of the problem, then they find they don’t need medication.

Disclaimer: The topic of prescription medication can be a challenging one for many people. I encourage you to take responsibility for being fully informed and confident making the right healthcare choice for yourself. This article is not medical advice and does not replace consultation with a qualified healthcare professional of your choosing. Never stop medication without such consultation.

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.