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…


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.


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.



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.”


50 Signs of Stress and Anxiety that May Surprise You

warningsign_istock_000004940205xsmallAll to often, we are unaware of how our stress is affecting us. Here are 50 signs to help you get a better understanding of how YOUR stress affects not only your health but also your life.

1. Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
2. Gritting, grinding teeth
3. Stuttering or stammering
4. Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
5. Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
6. Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
7. Ringing, buzzing or “popping sounds
8. Frequent blushing, sweating
9. Cold or sweaty hands, feet
10. Dry mouth, problems swallowing
11. Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
12. Rashes, itching, hives, “goose bumps”
13. Unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks
14. Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
15. Excess belching, flatulence
16. Constipation, diarrhea
17. Difficulty breathing, sighing
18. Sudden attacks of panic
19. Chest pain, palpitations
20. Frequent urination
21. Poor sexual desire or performance
22. Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
23. Increased anger, frustration, hostility
24. Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
25. Increased or decreased appetite
26. Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
27. Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
28. Trouble learning new information
29. Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
30. Difficulty in making decisions
31. Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
32. Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
33. Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness
34. Little interest in appearance, punctuality
35. Nervous habits, fidgeting, feet tapping
36. Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
37. Overreaction to petty annoyances
38. Increased number of minor accidents
39. Obsessive or compulsive behavior
40. Reduced work efficiency or productivity
41. Lies or excuses to cover up poor work
42. Rapid or mumbled speech
43. Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
44. Problems in communication, sharing
45. Social withdrawal and isolation
46. Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
47. Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs
48. Weight gain or loss without diet
49. Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
50. Excessive gambling or impulse buying
(Source: stresstop.com)

Learn more about stress here!

Move Anxiety Out of Your Head

Writing down all of your worries in a journal can help you let go of much of the anxiety that invades your mind.  Putting it all down on paper can give you a better perspective.

writing-stencilWhen you allow your worries or problems to percolate in your mind, they can multiply and become much larger and more confusing or daunting in your head than they truly are.  When you get them in writing, you can begin to use your logical, analytical mind to do some productive problem solving.  Having the same worries rolling ’round and ’round in your mind is unproductive.

It’s easier to exaggerate problems when anxious thoughts stay in your head instead of moving out onto a piece of paper…especially with those “What If” thoughts.  [Is “What If” ever followed by something POSITIVE???]  It’s easier to exaggerate the likelihood or the probability of those What Ifs coming true when they are swirling around in your mind.

Write worries down, close the notebook, and walk away (literally and figuratively).  Right before bed is a great time to do this to clear your mind for a good night’s sleep.

Check Your List Again Please


How Many Times Did You Check Your List?

‘Tis the season of giving. You’re making a list and checking it twice.

Well, please check it again because I’m pretty sure you forgot a very important thing: YOU.

Taxis on 7th Avenue at Times Square, New York City

This season (and its gift-giving tradition) only tends to magnify what most of us do all year round: Run around doing too many things, feeling like we never have enough time, doing for everyone else, and prioritizing ourselves last much of the time.


Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First

There’s a reason why they give that instruction on airplanes.  Can you see how filling your cup first really makes thegifts-stencil most sense? You have more mindful presence, energy, and love to offer others when your own cup runneth over. 

What’s the point of creating the “perfect” holiday or giving someone that “perfect” gift  if it has your pressured and stressed out energy attached to it? You will enjoy the giving so much more if your energy is positive and relaxed. You will be more present with each present.

How to Give to Yourself First

christmasornament-stencilGifting yourself can come in small moments in your day-to-day life. For example, as I wrote this, my gift to myself was to step away and enjoy my lunch instead of multi-tasking (eating and writing).

Last night the gift to myself was a yoga class. Tomorrow I am gifting myself with a new pair of shoes from my favorite shoe store. More important than the shoes themselves is the gift of planning time into my schedule to actually do it.

Giving yourself the less tangible gifts can often be the most meaningful. Last night I was getting wrapped up in upset about a decision a family member was making . . . so I gave myself the gift of letting go of wanting things to be other than the way they are. Today I gave myself the gift of peace by accepting that my schedule for the day was not playing out the way I hoped or planned due to unforeseen circumstances.

Start with the Gift of Permission

Why is giving ourselves permission so hard? We get so used to putting other things and other people first, and we rarely put ourselves at the top of our own “to-do list.”

Maybe you even feel guilty putting your needs and desires first. After all, they say it’s better to give than to receive, right? Yes and No. Yes, giving can be pleasurable and satisfying thing. But what if all the givers would only give but not receive?

It is an act of loving yourself to allow yourself to receive. Give yourself permission to give to yourself. You will find yourself more relaxed, healthier, happier and ready to take on your never-ending to-do list with renewed positive energy, and with less resentment.

The Gift of Not Doing

Not Doing can also be an important gift to yourself: Not making that extra batch of Christmas cookies, not attending every single holiday party, not staying up late on Facebook, not having that third glass of wine, not rushing out of the house at the last minute frantic about being late, not going to the 6th store to see if they have a better “whatever” than the first 5 stores . . .

The Not Doing can be the most important thing to give yourself permission for. But often times, the most important thing can also be the hardest. Don’t sell out on yourself. What you want and what you need matter. You matter.

Make Your Own Wish List

You have many opportunities each day to offer yourself simple yet beautiful and meaningful gifts.

Ask yourself:
• What could I give myself right now?
• What’s the gift I want to offer myself today?
• This week?
• This holiday season?

You have a giving heart. You do a lot and give a lot to others. Can you extend that heart to yourself? Can you give yourself permission to extend kindness and generosity to yourself, knowing you are important and deserving?



Can you love yourself more this holiday season (and always!) by putting yourself at the top of your gift list?

Anxiety Disorder? Do I have one?

Holistic Anxiety therapy with Di Philippi, MA, LPCI don’t like labels. In the anxiety therapy field, we have a defined set of “anxiety disorder” codes to use for diagnosis.  The codes are limited because they force us to lump people in categories and use labels based on criteria that don’t always accurately describe the real problem.

I prefer an individualized approach.  I look at the unique way that anxiety surfaces for each person, and then focus on making a customized plan focused on solving the real problem rather than on giving someone a label. Problems come and go but labels stick.

People often ask whether what they are experiencing is anxiety, so here’s a look at some different types of anxiety (without worrying about the labels).Remember these are generalities and show up differently for different people.

Different Types of Anxiety

Chronic Worry

You would probably call yourself a “worry wart.” You constantly worry about a number of different things… work, health, relationships. You think of worst-case scenarios and often wonder “what if” this or “what if” that.

Panic Attacks (aka Anxiety Attacks)

You suddenly feel physical symptoms that feel out of control, such as heart racing, dizziness, trembling, sweating, chills or flush, tingling or numbness. It comes out of nowhere and is very scary. You might think you’re having a heart attack and go to the emergency room, only to find out nothing is physically wrong.

Stock Photo by Sean Locke www.digitalplanetdesign.com

Fears and Phobias

You have strong fears of very specific things, such as: flying, driving, heights, enclosed spaces (like elevators, planes, or rooms without a clear exit route), feeling trapped, bugs, blood, driving, being alone, or being away from home. These are just some examples.

Social Anxiety (Shyness)

You often feel nervous around other people, perhaps only in a certain social situation, or in many different ones. You feel very self-conscious, wonder what people are thinking about you, and worry about embarrassing yourself. It’s hard to go into new situations and have to meet new people.

Obsessive Thinking

You have the very same upsetting thoughts over and over again. This could include thoughts of losing control, being contaminated (or contaminating others) with dirt or germs, or feeling guilty for things you didn’t even do. 

Compulsive Behaviors

You have an urge to do certain things. Perhaps count things, check and re-check things, wash/clean repeatedly, repeat words, or arrange things in a certain way. It’s like you HAVE TO do them out of fear that something bad could happen. You can’t seem to stop yourself.

Traumatic Reactions

Stress Meter Showing  Panic Attack From Stress And Worry

You still have intense memories, emotions, flashbacks, and/or nightmares related to a past traumatic situation you witnessed or experienced. You may avoid certain places, people or situations. You may feel jumpy or “on alert” much of the time. Traumatic situations could include abuse, rape, violence, car accidents, miscarriage, bullying, injury/illness, someone dying, or many other things.


“Stuff” is overtaking your home. You may collect too many things, have a problem getting rid of things, and/or have a problem organizing things… to the point where it limits the use of your living spaces and wastes significant amounts of time.

Health Concerns

Your doctor tells you there is nothing to be concerned about, but you still seem to have continual health complaints and symptoms. You often focus on health problems and may wonder if you have a serious medical condition even though you’ve never been diagnosed with one.

Over-focus on Body Imagebody-image-istock_000019996761xsmall

You’re convinced there’s something about your physical appearance that looks terrible. You’re sure everyone notices so you don’t believe them when they say that there’s nothing wrong, or that you’re beautiful. It could be related to your body shape, weight, acne, hair, nose or any another body feature.  It might be all you can see when you look in the mirror.

Public Speaking Anxiety

You dread having to speak in front of a group of people (small or large). You get extremely nervous, afraid that your mind will go blank or that you may make a fool of yourself.

Performance or Test Anxiety

You get overly anxious and nervous when you’re expected to perform or compete in front of others.  You do poorly on tests even though you are well prepared.

“Shy Bladder”

You avoid public restrooms. You can’t urinate when others are in the bathroom or might be within earshot. Even if you try, you just can’t go.

White Coat Syndrome

You get nervous even thinking about doctor appointments, and your blood pressure spikes every time you go to a doctor’s office (and therefore they often want to give you medication for it).

Productive Worry vs. Unproductive Worry

bad-goodsign-stencilDo you worry too much? Most of us would say that we do.

Did you know that there is a difference between productive worry and unproductive worry? It’s true! Not all worrying is bad for you. In fact, some form of worry is healthy. It’s actually your mind’s way of protecting you and keeping you safe.

The problem occurs when those worries become unproductive, creating anxious thoughts. As an anxiety therapist, I’ve found that once you understand the difference between productive and unproductive worry, the easier it is to use that knowledge to eliminate a great deal of your anxiety.

Productive Worry

Each day, we’re faced with problems. There are solutions to those problems somewhere, and it’s just a matter of finding them. Productive worry moves you toward an action plan to deal with the problems you encounter each day.

For example, let’s say I wake up one morning and I don’t feel well and I start to worry about my health. That type of worry prompts me to take better care of myself, to eat better, take my supplements, and be sure to get enough sleep.  Can you see how productive worry prompts action? Those actions are the keys to finding realistic solutions to the problems you’re facing.

Unproductive Worry Increases Anxiety

On the other hand, unproductive worry asks the same question over and over again: “What if?” This can be a debilitating question because of the anxiety it inevitably causes.  “What if?” is never followed by anything good, is it?

Instead of being solution-oriented, unproductive worry creates new problems for you. It can also make your current problems seem much worse. Have you ever asked yourself these questions:

  • What if something goes wrong?
  • What If I make a mistake?
  • What if the unexpected happens?
  • What if the worst-case scenario happens? 

If you tend to worry, there are a thousand “What-if’s” you probably ask yourself all the time. The problem with these questions (and with this type of worrying) is that it keeps you from actively seeking productive solutions to the things you’re struggling with.

Leaving the Present Moment

The MindWith unproductive worry, you’re actually allowing your mind to create problems that don’t exist in the present moment.  You mind can get fixated on potential problems that may or may not ever occur in the future.  Be honest with yourself: How often do those “What-if’s” and worst-case scenarios actually happen?

Unproductive worry instantly creates anxiety. That’s precisely how you can tell that it is the unproductive variety. Unproductive worry creates a vicious cycle of worry that is typical for chronic worriers.

The key to breaking the vicious cycle is to shift worry from unproductive to productive. Start doing this by formulating an action plan for even the smallest of problems you encounter each day.  Consider writing it down to keep it from swirling round and round in your head.

Could Worry Be Comforting?

Too often, people get stuck in their unproductive worry cycle. Perhaps it’s because that’s the only way they know how to think.  Perhaps they grew up in a home where that  worry or anxiety was common. 

Often times clients will come to realize that they worry because it actually makes them more comfortable.  There’s some temporary comfort in worrying because it can feel like you’re addressing or preventing the problem.  But this is just a misperception. Unproductive worry never solves or prevents problems. Any comfort it brings is short-lived and as soon as a state of discomfort returns, it brings on more worry. And the vicious cycle continues.

Get Off the Hamster Wheel

Problems usually get bigger (exaggerated in your mind) the longer the unproductive worry continues…creating more fear…creating more discomfort…therefore the need to worry more… and it’s hard to get off the hamster wheel. 

There is a way to combat anxiety, stress, tension and all of the other symptoms your worry causes you. The key is learning how to shift the old thinking patterns in your mind. Understanding the difference between productive and unproductive worry is a beginning.  Making changes in your thinking so you can feel comfortable even without worrying is the real goal.