anxiety

walks in the park

This is my story, maybe it will help inspire you, maybe it won’t. What I am not going to do is tell you how you should be dealing with the quarantine. There are plenty of experts who are offering advice. Also,there are a ton of talking heads stirring up your worst fears and then offering ways to calm them down again, until the next headline. Furthermore, there are too many Hollywood stars doling out admonitions from the comfort of their spacious mansions, creating a resentment from their fan base. I am simply going to share what has worked for me and kept my spirits up.

We started early in the quarantine as my husband’s company decided to start work from home (WFH) almost immediately and why not? The company has the technology to do so. This created a change in my living and working as I was already WFH, however, that included most of my clients coming to see me in my home office. Because my husband and I are no spring chickens and because he has a history of heart concerns, we decided that I needed to move towards online work, via Zoom or Facebook Portal or other means.

Initially, I kept busy

with my clients as my schedule always has been, just done exclusively by remote. Then I noticed the palpable fear of the medical professionals and so I added free sessions to anyone in the field. That has taken over a good number of my sessions. I trust that I will be able to get back to a more balanced schedule soon enough, in the meanwhile this is my way of paying it forward.

I like structure in my life. For me, this means I have continued with a routine. Awakening early every morning to walk the dogs and feed them, followed by my normal schedule of cleaning my home and exercise for my body. Next, I ablute and once dressed, head downstairs to my office. If I have sessions scheduled, I begin with those. Otherwise I am working on paperwork and all the background stuff that I do to keep in business.

Downtime

There is more downtime simply by the nature of this quarantine. That is where it has become particularly important that I use it well. By that, I mean find ways to nurture me. Today, I overheard the backyard neighbors’ little children shrieking with delight as they ran through the water sprinkler. I moved my laptop out to my back porch so I could enjoy the unfettered joy. With my husband home that has given me cherished “water cooler time”. That is time to take a break and just talk about nothing in particular. At the end of our workday, we walk through the park with our dogs. We are in almost total isolation, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.

I have taken the time to learn new recipes, nothing earth shattering mind you. Still I discovered that enchilada sauce doesn’t have to come from a can. And egg drop soup is relatively easy to make. Claiming a shortage in the meat department, I have even included more plant-based meals into our diet. He is enjoying them!

Although I am unable to physically visit with my sons and their partners, we are fortunate to have the Facebook Portal. Therfore, we have held family happy hours and chat sessions. Most of that time is spent in gales of laughter, just like the old days around our dinner table. Speaking of dinner, we are having our food and supplies delivered. Without the distraction of shiny displays I am saving money! In support of local businesses, we get take-out a few meals a week.

I have had projects waiting for me to have free time. Some of them will still wait, I guess they weren’t a priority. Others, such as going through old photos and scaling back the quantity has given me the gift of recalling some wonderful memories. My plants are happy with the attention given to them now, just like some of my friendships. It is fun exchanging funny memes and thoughts and inspirations with friends and loved ones. It helps me to look for and read what feeds my soul. Selfishly, I am enjoying all the time I have with my husband.

What I am not doing

is overdosing on news. I watch enough to be aware, not so much as to ride the roller coaster that media would provide. Nor am I joining in negativity and trash talking; whether it is social media, texts or phone calls. If a dark moment seems to encroach on my mind or my soul, I do self-hypnosis or meditate. Using the other tools in my toolkit to reframe that moment as well. I am doing my best not to judge anyone else for how they are reacting to this quarantine, no one needs or wants my opinion anyway. Let me note, I refuse to feel guilty if I don’t behave perfectly, these are imperfect times.

Just as I started this, this is my story, it is not meant to “should” on you. I hope it may inspire you. If you have ways of coping that will inspire me, please share! I am always open to new ideas.

 

There are times that anyone may experience anxiety. Before making a life changing decision, taking an important test or upon hearing unexpected news. Usually, those feelings pass, they are temporary. However, for the person diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder it can build and continue until it interferes with daily activities.

aware anxiety tool

While  I don’t diagnose, I frequently get referrals from doctors who have patients with Anxiety Disorder that are looking for relief. Hypnosis has proven to be very effective in helping reduce the stress levels and help to reset thoughts. I often record the trance portion of our session to help my client reinforce the new feelings after we have met.

I am always looking for new tools to help in the diminishing of stress and anxiety. So, much to my delight a new tool found a way into my toolbox and I really want to share it. I asked a beautiful young friend of mine who deals with anxiety to give me 3 words for it. She instantly responded with suffocating, tense and nervous.  What she didn’t know was, she was already using the first step of the new tool.  She has used some of the other steps as well in the past. This is simply a lovely way to put them into a quick simple practice.

Right now, if you are suffering from anxiety, pull out an index card and write the word AWARE on it. Aware is an acronym for Accept, Watch, Act Normal, Repeat and Expect. Allow me to explain.

Accept: accept that you are feeling the anxiety and go a step further to name it. Yes, use as many creative words as you can to give it a name. According to a 2015 study1 putting feelings into words can reduce the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

Watch: watch the anxiety. Observe it as if it was something you could rate, give it a number on a scale of 1 – 10. Just by doing that you have removed some of the attachment you might have to the sensations. It is now a number instead of a state. Then take a few slow deep breathes and notice if the number changes. (Frequently it will go down a number or two.)

Act Normal: Take some slow deep breathes, making sure that the exhale is longer than the inhale. (i.e. in to the count of 4, hold to the count of 4 and release to the count of 8.) If you are speaking, calm your speech down as well. Keep your attention on the breathes or the moment you are speaking about. Think about your surroundings instead of your worries.

Repeat: Simply repeat the first 3 steps as needed.

Expect: Expect the best results as that is what you deserve!

By pulling out the card and reminding yourself to use those steps you can redirect your “awareness” from feeling uncomfortable to feeling peaceful. Ironically, the sensations we feel during anxiety are often the same sensations we feel when excited (think the night before your birthday or another big holiday as a kid) and when exercising. Heart pounding, gasping breathes, sweaty palms and shaking can all happen when you are excited or heavily exerting yourself, yet you don’t think of that as an attack. So maybe panic attacks are simply mislabeled physiological occurrences that we tie to negative thoughts.

Once the moment has passed, it is time to move on to keeping that old anxiety away. According to Dr. Daniel Amen, who has written several books on the brain2 daily elevated heart rate (such as walking briskly) improves the heart, the brain and your mood! Therefore, daily exercise such as a taking that brisk walk or dancing around your house will help keep those tigers away.

While fear and anxiety may have a rightful place on occasion, it does not have to control you. Use these tips along with a little hypnosis and take back your thoughts and your joy!

 

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796715000431
  2. https://www.brainmdhealth.com/education/media/books?utm_campaign=BMD+-+Branded+-+Books&utm_source=AdWords&utm_medium=Paidsearch&utm_kmkw=daniel+amen+books&gclid=CjwKCAjw-8nbBRBnEiwAqWt1zULDpMWpZ6Fj1A9Wal9zmUiVOW-J7FTmkoz3Tl_u7F2aqpgxos0akBoCb8QQAvD_BwE

 

More and more I see the hashtag First World Problems. It is a humorous look at ourselves, after all people often say that we in western modern societies have it really easy. For example:  A possible infection, another root canal and the removal of two wisdom teeth; starting to look like a fabulous summer #firstworldproblems, or this: I’ve received new honors from my college, so the old resumes I have printed are useless now. #FirstWorldProblems.  Someone worrying about which job offer he is going to take might seem frivolous to a man who’s wondering if he’ll be alive tomorrow, or whether he can feed his family for another week.
When we are suddenly facing real problems, we often start to wonder how we could ever have been so worked up about what we thought were problems before. Why did we spend so much time worrying and fretting that we could have spent enjoying? Still, if during that time we are given the adage, there are people who are much worse off than you, it feels flippant. Harken back to the times our parents told us we should be grateful for our least favorite dinner, after all, there are children starving in Africa. I didn’t know a kid who didn’t wish they could ship that meal off to the starving!
I once heard a therapist suggest that her sister in another war torn country had real problems, so the client she was seeing should be grateful that being left by her husband with small children to support is all she had to deal with.  How did that make the client feel? Guilty as well as terrified, hurt and unappreciated would be my guess.
You can be sure that the client she was speaking to was not unaware of human trafficking  or war or starvation that goes on around the world, still that awareness didn’t make a difference to her because she was living her life.
The fact is that fear, anxiety and hopelessness are correlated with life circumstances, but only up to a point.  Living in a nice safe environment is also correlated with feeling safe and secure, but the correlation isn’t as exact as you might think. You see, fear is fear, whether it’s fear of starvation or fear of riding an elevator to your office. Someone who is frightened or depressed in an outwardly perfectly safe and secure environment still feels as if they are living an unsafe life.
Furthermore, recent research has shown that only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances. A full 90% is based on our inner environment.
So, I make the case that while we don’t want to trivialize anyone for their fears or worries, there is something to be said for practicing gratitude.
Over the ages, many philosophers and sages have celebrated gratitude. Many of the world’s great religions and spiritual practices, have all at various times endorsed the idea that being grateful encourages reciprocal kindness, as well as individual and collective well-being. When people focus on gratitude on a regular basis it has been found that they enjoy increased alertness, enthusiasm, optimism and energy. In one study with hundreds of participants, the gratitude group experienced less depression, exercised more regularly and made more progress towards personal goals. According to these research findings, people who feel gratitude are more likely to feel loved and respected than the non-grateful. They also showed better immune function and less physical illness!
So rather than just noting the bare fact that there are people physically worse off than us, it may be better for us to actively focus on what we do have. When we start to actually notice and appreciate that we have access to clean water, or the internet, or other people who aren’t trying to kill us we can create a shift in our awareness. Keep in mind that comparing yourself to another (she got a promotion and I didn’t even though I work just as hard as she does) will result in more bad feelings. Your bad feeling comes from focusing on what someone else has that’s more than what you have.
Next time you feel really worried or down, think of three ways in which it could be even worse. Not how someone else has it worse, but instead it might be worse for you (but isn’t). For instance, you were stood up because your friend “got a better offer”. You might think, yea that sucks and hurts being dissed, but at least I have other friends to call and chat with. Or, at least I have a great job and my kids are safe at home with me.  
Follow this by trying to imagine your life without those blessings. Imagine losing that great job and being unable to get another in the foreseeable future or having your kids being taken away from you. Take time to imagine what that might look like, how that might feel if you didn’t have those blessings. Do this for a few moments to get the impact of how things might have been. Just be sure that you are focused on a blessing you truly appreciate and not the thing that started this downward spiral in the first place. Be sure what you focus on is something that, while it would be worse, it is not likely to ever occur. So, if anything has been of concern (you are concerned that your kids will be taken by an angry ex for example) eliminate that one from your imagining.

 

Try this, then go back to feeling the gratitude for those blessings. Really spend a few moments enjoying the benefits in your life of living your life. Practice a smile, because it is true that it is very difficult to feel bad when smiling, even a fake smile.  To quote Young Frankenstein, “It could be worse, it could be raining.”
 
 
 
How would you like a simple exercise that helps to release anxious feelings? What if it was fun and easy to do? Imagine if you could do it anywhere, home, car, office, wherever you needed a quick mind/body release. There has been research done on this simple task and it has been found to help relieve stress.

First you want to acknowledge that you feel anxious, nervous, fearful or panicky. Allow that feeling to be present, without judging, just experience it. Understand that it is just a feeling and as such it will not harm you. Next, close your left hand (the one you write with) into a fist.  Be sure to make the fist nice and tight. Really squeeze it, feel the pressure of the tightness. Then begin to imagine all of your anxious feelings slowly flowing down your arm and into your fist.
If you want you can imagine those anxious feelings are like a red glowing energy or light that travels down your arm until it is trapped in your tight fist. Make these sensations as real as possible. You may notice that your fist will begin to pulsate with energy as the anxiety is transferred there. It may even change temperature.
Now, as the energy flows and the sensations occur begin to notice that your feelings will change from fear and anxiety into a tolerable nervous excitement. You can imagine the color changing, perhaps to a lighter shade like pink or even a cool blue color.
Now the final step – begin to open each finger of your fist nice and slowly. As you do this notice how the tension is released, you are setting the trapped anxiety free! Count each finger out from 5 down to 1, taking a breath as you open the hand up. Your hand will now be open flat and the tension, stress, anxiety and fear will float away from you. With one final deep breath, blow on to the palm of your hand and send all those negative feelings away for good!
Notice if you feel a light sense of release as the anxiety leaves. You might imagine it floating up, up and away into the sky, taken away into the stratosphere. Repeat this little exercise up to three times and notice how much better you feel. 

You can also tune into a free stress audio here: Serenity
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.” ~Mark Twain
Have you ever had one of those days where it seems as though everything that can does go wrong? You even manage to get in the wrong line at the grocery store. Then, as you listen to the conversation of the person who seemed to be taking forever getting their items, you realize their tale of woe is so horrific you feel foolish for the things you have allowed to bother you.   Suddenly your perspective changes, maybe even your mood lifts and things just seem to be easier.
That is a case of a cognitive reframe.  Stress has been proven to be increased as well as decreased depending on our thoughts. That’s because stress, anxiety, and irrational thinking have a big impact on daily life, and how you react to certain situations. Reframing techniques can actually change your physical responses to stress because your body’s stress response is triggered by perceived stress, not actual events.
Reframing thoughts about situations is often a part of what occurs in my office. It is something I am well aware of. I preach/teach it enough you might imagine I am one continual happy thought train. I would love to have that be true, even more so, to have the world think that about me. I am putting myself out there with this blog post, but I feel that by sharing this truth, I am allowing you, reader, to understand we are in this together.
This past Saturday, I went out for bike ride with my husband (Greg). We both enjoy riding; have ridden many miles over the years. It has always been a source of exercise and a mood enhancer for us both. I had recently been ill and still was not feeling my full strength as we head out. I couldn’t keep up my normal pace. But, I was going to fight through it.
 
At one point Greg noticed some incredible flowers tucked inside of a clump of trees. He called to me to turn around so that we could take a closer look at them. That is when my imbalance really kicked in and a turn I could normally do with ease became impossible and I fell. I laid on the ground with tears in my eyes, more out of humiliation than any pain.

Once up, I really enjoyed the flowers and took several pictures of them. All seemed well with the world in that moment. However, as we got back on the bikes, I allowed my thoughts to run away with me. I began to feel insecure. I felt old, clumsy, stupid and any other negative adjective I could come up with in those moments. At our next stop I began to lament my condition to Greg.

Greg would have none of it, so he worked his magic. He reminded me of a recent conversation with clients of his who had known of many people suffering from the same ailment I just had. Some were younger, smarter, more balanced, etc. but all had struggled with the virus. Many of them suffered longer than me. It is a credit to my immune system and my tenacity that I was out on the bike.
Suddenly it was if the sun rose. We were on a beach causeway and I noticed children and families playing, brilliant colors, the warm breeze, the sound of the water and yes, even a beloved dolphin swimming near-by. My thoughts were happy and confident thoughts. I felt strong on the bike and happy that I could enjoy this perfect day.

A simple change in thought changed my day. Can you think of ways your thoughts can help improve your day?

St Patrick’s Day is here and the celebrations are in full swing, from turning rivers green (famously in Chicago and even locally the Hillsborough River) to parades and parties. The reason for the celebration, according to tradition, is in honor of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. However, as there is little evidence that this island ever had many snakes. Apparently, as snakes in biblical terms represent evil and Pagans were considered the same by Christians, it was the Pagan folks that were driven away (or converted.)
I like to use the metaphor in my life in a bit different way. I am not in any rush to drive Pagans or any other group of people out of my life, but evil can leave. Now, I am not plagued by evil, don’t mean to imply that.  However, anything that stands in the way of my true inner peace can leave now.
Ironically, I once had a horrid fear of snakes. It took some self -hypnosis and contact with the creatures for me to change that.  So, what are the snakes that I and so many others I meet deal with? FEAR is a biggie! Fear can rob us of inner peace as quickly as it becomes a thought.
We have a continuous inner voice that seems to rage on and on when we are anxious or fearful. This self-talk hugely affects our emotions and behaviors. When we start telling ourselves things that don’t line up with reality we get into trouble. We start thinking and believing thoughts that just aren’t true and these false beliefs become a prime breeding ground for unhealthy fears.
Often our first impulse when we experience fear is to avoid the source. When the danger is real, avoidance is an appropriate tactic. When fear is irrational, avoidance is inappropriate and will only make the problem more intense. Many people are in the habit of seeing the negative side of any challenging situation. When we focus on the negatives, we resist taking action and continue to avoid, becoming stuck. The more we focus on the possibility of loss the more anxiety and fear we create.
Avoidance is a serious obstacle to dealing with fear because it works. We temporarily feel good through avoidance. The problem is we can condition ourselves to avoid something rather than face it. As a result, we give a portion of our lives over to the thing we fear, letting it control us. Avoidance will never make fear go away.
You may find it helpful to make a list of any specific fears you have and get them out in the open. In each situation that leaves you feeling hesitant or fearful, try to understand exactly what is holding you back. What is it that you are afraid will happen and why? Are those things really likely to occur, or is there only a slight chance? If you take your fear to the extreme that you are worried about, what are the odd of that extreme coming through?
Next, use a separate sheet of paper and create a list of the benefits you stand to gain by moving forward. Be as specific and optimistic as you can. Remember that dread and fear will amplify your perception of the negative possibilities, which can make the positive benefits seem significantly smaller or less important. So, you may need to work a little harder at emphasizing the positive.
Comparing the two lists, you can then make a balanced decision. You will have a better, more balanced view of your options.
Recently I spoke with a woman plagued with anxiety attacks. Apparently, the onset of these attacks coincided with her beginning a job search. The more we discussed her concerns about finding the right job, the more her fears were expressed. When we took these fears to their extreme, she decided she was not likely to end up a homeless bag lady or dead on the streets of Tampabay. As we discussed the possibilities of what could go right, her fears began to dissipate.
In her case, she decided to move forward with the job search. She is not going to let fear get in her way. So, her snakes have been driven away.

Take a moment today to channel your inner St. Patrick and drive those snakes out of your life. Breathe in that inner peace, picture and imagine the beauty of those Irish hills and wonder what beauty might be waiting for you to enjoy.