9 Ways to Take Charge of Your Insomnia and Get To Sleep


It’s 2am when I suddenly awoke from a rare but deep sleep, well, deep for me as least.  Of course, I can’t simply fall right back asleep because now I have to use the bathroom.

I notice that I’m still pretty tired so I am telling myself to focus on this feeling instead of thinking about what I need to do the next day.

That pesky To Do list is lurking in the corner of my mind and doesn’t like to be put in time-out.

As soon as the fog lifts from my tired brain worry is front and center and plagues me for the next 2-3 hours.

A few nights of bad sleep have now turned into many years, so many that I can’t even remember when it started. It has become utterly agonizing at times.

If I am lucky I fall asleep around 5am and get another hour or two of sleep in, however, this means I won’t get a workout in because I am too tired to get out of bed.

Exercise is one key step in relieving anxiety and improving sleep and now I am again skipping something so vital to managing my own anxiety.

If this is your story, or something similar, I want you to know that you are not alone.  I am right there with you.

I know all too well what it’s like to not get enough sleep night after night after night and how it affects the next day.

When I can’t sleep no matter how bright blue and sunny the Southern California sky is and how warm and balmy the ocean air feels everything looks grey and dull.

I obsess over when I will be done with what I’m doing so I can sneak in a nap.

There have been many, many days where I have even taken a nap in my car during my lunch break.

I have had to drive to quiet, hopefully deserted, but hopefully safe, parking lots just so I could get some sleep to make it through the rest of the day.

I can’t think clearly.  I am not creative at all.  I have no desire to make any decisions or try to do anything that requires concentration or forethought.

Everything I do feels like I have an extra 30 pounds of weight on me.

Lack of sleep can cause you to feel hopelessness, anger, frustration, sadness, irritability to the point that you are just sick and tired of trying to manage this gorilla on your back.

When I do get a good night’s sleep it’s amazing how wonderful life is. I feel like I can conquer the world.  Everything is brighter and more colorful then usual.

I laugh and have fun. Life has a happy glow about it and I am motivated to do more, achieve more and accomplish my goals…until the evening descends…and I never know what to expect.

From the many clients I have had over the years the one  thing I have witnessed over and over again is that change does not occur until you are REALLY, TRULY sick and tired of being who or how you are.

I’ve decided that it’s time to take charge of my insomnia rather than allowing it to control me. In my search for answers this is what I found:

Surprising (well surprising to me anyway) causes of Insomnia

  • Cortisol

What is it?  Cortisol is a hormone that is released when we are faced with a stressful event whether it be real or imaginary.  Low levels of glucose in the blood also known as low blood sugar can increase cortisol levels as well.

One of the purposes of cortisol is to awaken us so we are ready to fight or flee the metaphorical tiger that is attacking us.

The problem with the insomniac is that they remain in a state of constant wakefulness because they don’t get the deep, restorative sleep necessary to bring cortisol levels back to normal.

Therefore, cortisol levels build up in the blood and keep the insomniac in a constant state of hyperarousal.

  • Hyperarousal

What are the physical effects on your body?  Cortisol, Norepinephrine and Epinephrine are released into the body to aid in the “fight or flight” response.

Norepinephrine raises the heart rate, which causes glucose to be released as energy and blood to flow to the muscles.

Epinephrine also raises the heart rate, constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils and suppresses the immune system.

Respiration is faster, blood pressure and levels of blood sugar are also increased.  You are in a state of extreme alertness which means all of your senses are heightened.  You are ready to fight.

When the stressful event has passed though, your body should be able to release these hormones and go back to normal, of course, this isn’t always the case.

If you are someone with chronic anxiety then you may be in state of hyperarousal most of your waking hours which makes it nearly impossible for your body to calm down and release these stress producing hormones.

  • Low Blood Sugar

I would have to say that this was the most surprising fact I have recently discovered.  According to an article written by Dr. Flannery the reason we wake up at 2am is due to low blood sugar levels.

Because our bodies are fasting throughout the night our blood sugar levels lower which kicks cortisol into gear to get those levels back to normal.

Now our bodies are in a heightened state of awareness which can jolt us awake.

  • Thoughts are Things

Be mindful about sleep related thoughts.  According to clinical Psychologist Steve Orma, author of “Stop Worrying and Get To Sleep” , how we perceive our sleep situation and the association we have with where we sleep (i.e. bed, bedroom) plays a huge part in getting a good night’s sleep.

At this point you are probably thinking, alright, I have a good idea about the effects of insomnia, but how do I overcome this obnoxious habit I have gotten myself in to?

Here are 9 steps you can take that may help relieve your state of fight or flight and get you back in balance. 

#1.  Take time each day to worry

I know…I know…this sounds crazy especially to an insomniac.  Yet, giving yourself permission to worry actually provides some small sense of relief.

Have you heard of the cliche “Whatever you resist persists?” As anxious people we are prone to this and get into the habit of worrying about EVERYTHING.

Rather than fight it do something about it. Start with giving yourself permission to take 10 or 15 minutes a day to write down all of your worries.

When you do this two things happen, for one, when that worry starts to suck you can tell yourself that you have already over analyzed the thought and beat the hell out of it, so you can give yourself permission to let it go until the next day.

Two, in Psychology there’s this phrase “Prescribe the Problem.”  The theory is that when you are given permission to act out the problem you get the opportunity to take control of it.

And once this happens you might just get bored of the problem behavior and dump it altogether.

#2.  Take time to process your day

Worrying suppresses your ability to process what is going on in the moment.

This could be a major contributor to how or if we go to bed.  I know for myself the end of the day is when I seem to run through my day and the next.

This might be because I can finally stop and relax which allows all my suppressed thoughts to pop into my mind.

Journaling is a simple, yet effective technique that lets your thoughts stream out of your head.

You are taking control of your thoughts rather than being run by them.  You are probably thinking, I don’t have time to write down every negative thought  and every situation that happened that day.

I hear ya!  I am probably the busiest person you will meet (as my friends like to tell me).

But you can choose just one or two situations that caused you more anxiety then normal and write about those.

What happened?  Why did that particular situation bother you?  How can you resolve this issue and move on? Keep it basic.

#3.  Plan out your day

This is a step that hands down works for me.  I have been using this technique since undergrad.  I start with the deadline, work my way back, and write in my calendar when I will begin working on a particular project.

I also write out the steps that I will take so that I know exactly what I need to do when the time comes.

This way I am not under pressure to figure out my best course of action.

Establishing deadlines and planning out my action steps gives me comfort by knowing that the task will be completed and I don’t have to obsess over it right now in this very moment.

#4.  We are what we eat

I have tried almost all of these and eventually my body becomes immune to the remedy, however, I would rather keep trying the all-natural way then get to the point of popping pills every night.

Here are a list of foods, vitamins and herbal options that can help decrease cortisol levels and help increase sleep:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Turkey Meat
  • Nut butters
  • Bananas
  • Multi-grain crackers and cheese
  • Whole Grains
  • Lentils
  • Hummus
  • Tuna or Salmon
  • Tart Cherry Juice
  • Omega 3
  • B vitamins
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium (you can get this in a powder form and drink it as a tea)
  • Valerian Root
  • Chamomile tea
  • Melatonin
  • Power To Sleep PM by Irwin Naturals

#5.  Exercise

Exercise is essential for the anxious person because it releases endorphins which act like morphine by diminishing the perception of pain.

They also work like a kind of natural sedative which will help you sleep better at night.

According to Steve Orma exercise elevates our body temperature.  Afterwards our body temperature drops faster than normal which can also help you get to sleep.

I live by the beach and there are a series of stairs along the coast you can take to get to the sand.

I have noticed that after a 30-45 minute run on the beach and up and down a couple flights of stairs I am exhausted for the rest of the night.

Working out give me a sense of euphoria. My head feels clearer and I feel more motivated to get through my day.

#6.  Hypnotherapy

I will keep this point brief and refer you to a Hypnotherapist I found on iTunes that has worked well for me.

You can try it out and see if it works for you. Glenn Harrold’s hypnotherapy session’s called “Relax,” “Inner Peace,” and “Wisdom” have helped me fall asleep fast and stay asleep.

In my experience as an anxious person having something to focus on other than my racing thoughts helps me calm down.

#7.  Guided Meditations and White Noise

There are a number of guided meditation apps that I found via the App Store.  Here are a few I have on my phone that have worked for me:

#8.  Meditate   

There is so much research out there about the benefits of meditation and it’s easy to find via the internet that I am not going to rehash it here.  What I want to address is my own experience.

What I know is I have had high blood pressure for the last year which I have never had before and it doesn’t run in my family.

I believe this is largely due to insomnia and having an overabundance of cortisol levels in my blood.

For the anxious person sitting in a chair for more than 5 minutes trying to calm your thoughts can be agonizing until you really get good at it.

If this is the case for you here are some suggestions that have worked for me and my clients.

For some taking a walk is meditative. So is being creative such as dancing, cooking or crocheting/knitting (all three are my personal favorites).

Another idea is get some Mandala’s and crayons and act like that 5 year old you once were. Color away. Be creative.

These activities force your mind to focus on the present moment which stops your mind from racing and worrying about the past and future.

There is a quote I really like and it goes like this, “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future you are pissing on the present.”

Remember that when your thoughts get away from you.

#9. Stop fighting so hard

Probably one of the hardest things to do EVER. Accept that anxiety is something that must be managed just like managing your finances or your weight. It takes time, planning and practice.

Now I look at anxiety as something that is concrete and not abstract. As something that I must give energy to on a daily basis if I want to sleep better and lower my blood pressure.

Know that you are not alone.  If anything you have Paul and I to support and guide you through this maddening condition.

There may be hope…what current research has to say

A Harvard neurologist, Patrick Fuller and his team, may have discovered an area of the lower brain stem that he calls the parafacial zone.

The lower brain’s main function is to be a highway sending signals to the upper brain and cerebellum.

Fuller and his team have found that this area could be triggered to rush Gaba to the upper brain. Gaba is a neurotransmitter that aids in sleeping and calms down our nervous system.

These findings are still in the very early stages but if this is the case scientists may be able to develop a drug that can help us insomniacs get into a deep sleep without the repercussions that many drugs.

Until these sleep aids are produced though, I hope that the tips and information here give you hope that you can wake up in the morning and feel energized rather then beat down and exhausted. I hope that you can conquer your insomnia and Get To Sleep.

To learn more about how to improve your sleep listen to this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show. Paul spoke with clinical psychologist Dr. Steve Orma to get the details about better sleep.

anxiety, podcast

How to Lower Stress and Anxiety Without Taking Drugs

cortisol, stress

Let me guess. You want to get better without taking drugs? Yes, of course you do. I did too. It sounds pretty good, right? No side-effects, no one questioning your toughness or stability; it would be perfect.

What’s crazy is that it isn’t some wild dream. You probably agree, yes? That’s why you’re busy trying to imbue this dream with life.

You eat right, you exercise, you meditate; it’s all perfectly reasonable. And that’s exactly why you feel so frustrated. No matter what you do, you’re not making any progress.

Even those of you that overcame your doubts about drugs and use them now probably still struggle.  So why is this happening?

If you’re doing anything wrong it’s that your approach is too generic. It’s not your fault though. Everyone pretty much does the same thing.

But the old advice doesn’t work. My advice: focus on lowering your stress levels through targeted action.

Here’s an example: if I asked you what is a healthy diet what would you say? What exactly does that mean?

Are we talking about preventing obesity or are we talking about using food to target and decrease specific stress hormones? This is why specifics matter.

You can use specifics, the details, to develop more effective goals and actions. Let’s take a look at how this approach works.

Discovering the magic of precision

A few weeks ago I told you that I was going to provide you with a list of foods that can help you decrease the stress hormone cortisol (see below).

I explained that your primary problem is related more to chronic stress rather than phantom emotions like anxiety.

For me, this makes sense. If a person is stressed, then they will have higher levels of cortisol in their blood. This in turn will lead to sleep problems, palpitations, nervousness, even paranoia.

So instead of saying that you should “lower stress” I urge you to “lower your cortisol levels.” Instead of saying that you should exercise, I will steer you towards useful exercises – when to do them and how to do them right.

Doing the right thing at the right time is how you get better. Unfortunately, the “right things” change depending on what stage of change you’re in. If you move too fast, or skip steps, all progress stops, and you end up stuck.

Moving from one stage to the next requires that you learn new skills, and actually use them, which always stinks. Most of us like learning a lot more than we like doing, but learning alone isn’t going to solve your problems.

I’ve worked with hundreds of anxious people and this seems to be a major problem for most of them. And if it’s a problem for you too you might be screwed.

The solution: identify specific things you can do and break them up into smaller tasks. You should start by calming your body.

The truth is that if you want to get better you have to reduce your physical symptoms first. Once your body is calm(er) then you can move on to the next phase, which is addressing your anxious thoughts.

To help you get started, I will explain how you can use food to lower cortisol levels. Let’s dive in!

Learn to Understand Cortisol

First, let’s talk about what cortisol is. In short, it’s one of the most destructive hormones in your body when elevated.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released into the body when your stress response is triggered. Once your adrenal glands fire off cortisol into the blood you can develop much more than just anxiety.

Excessive cortisol can also impair your memory, digestion and cause mood swings.

Cortisol is at its highest during the morning, which could explain why so many anxious people feel crappy when they wake up.

Taking concrete steps towards lowering your cortisol levels is one of the most important things you can do to decrease your physical symptoms.

Top 4 Cortisol Killing Nutrients

 1. Water - One of the most overlooked ways to reduce stress

Did you know that being dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels? Turns out that if you’re even a little dehydrated not only can your cortisol levels go up, but it can also cause your heart and lungs to race. Drinking more water can help reverse this.

The other benefit of drinking lots of water is that it flushes out toxins and helps carry nutrients throughout the body.

So how much should you drink every day? The answer is: it depends. Your daily intake will vary based on your size, weight and level of physical activity.

I looked around for an exact value and found several recommendations. Some say 91 ounces per day for women and 125 ounces for men. Others stick to the old 8×8 rule, which says you should drink 8 cups of water per day. To be honest, I couldn’t find a clear-cut answer.

I was amused by how many opinions there are on this one issue. You could… oh, to hell with it. Drink enough to make your pee clear. The end.

2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Just for the Halibut!

Known as essential fats, omega-3 can only be obtained from food as the human body cannot make its own.

Foods rich in omega-3 include fish, nuts, flax seeds, flax seed oil and dark leafy greens.

Fish is probably your best bet when it comes to filling up on omega-3. You’ll want to shop for specific types of fish though as different species contain varying amounts of omega-3.

Fish high in omega-3 include anchovies, wild salmon, mackerel, and bluefin tuna. You can also eat shrimp, lobster, or clams, but expect much lower doses of omega-3 in the latter.

You can also find omega-3 in foods like steak and eggs but you should obviously try to avoid foods high in unhealthy fats.

Although most researchers have focused their attention on how omega-3 benefits heart health, there has been an ongoing interest around whether or not it helps mood, as well.

A French study from 2011 found that omega-3 from fish oil lowered anxiety and boosted brain function in mouse lemurs, a kind of primate.

Some researchers think that omega-3 has a positive impact on serotonin and dopamine transmission, which could explain the decrease in anxiety seen in the mouse lemurs.

It worked for me. I started taking fish oil in 2007 and haven’t stopped since. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I’ve always felt like fish oil helped regulate my mood.

3.  Magnesium – The ultimate relaxation mineral

Magnesium is a vital nutrient responsible for the proper function of many systems in your body, including your bones, nerves and muscles.

Low levels of magnesium can lead to problems with fatigue, anxiety, irritability, irregular heart rhythms, insomnia and even depression.

One study showed that magnesium deficiency caused “enhanced anxiety-related behavior” in mice.

When you start to untangle the effects of magnesium in the nervous system, you touch upon nearly every single biological mechanism for depression.”  – Emily Deans, M.D.

Many foods have magnesium in them so you don’t have to look far to get your daily magnesium needs met.

Foods high in magnesium include dark chocolate, bananas, figs, avocado, soybeans, fish, nuts and seeds.

4. Vitamin C – The rapid mood booster

According to a study published in 2010 hospitalized patients given vitamin C for 7-10 days showed a marked improvement in mood compared to patients given vitamin D instead. More recent studies pretty much say the same thing.

This might make you want to run out and stock up on oranges but keep in mind that there’s also plenty of vitamin C in other foods like guava, bell peppers and kale.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will more than cover your vitamin C needs. For adults, it’s recommended that you have between 65-90mg of vitamin C per day.

It’s also important to remember that you want to get most of your nutrients from food rather than supplements. And if you take supplements try to avoid synthetics and focus your attention on supplements derived from either plants or animals.

It’s time to take your needs seriously

A lack of nutrients isn’t the only reason you suffer from chronic stress. But eating like crap destroys your body’s ability to heal itself. Not exactly what you want to do when you’re under stress.

The good news is that you have control over what, how, and when you eat.

I know you want to do better. Here’s your chance. Anxiety has robbed you of control for too long. Now is the time to take it back.

By eating right you’ll be reducing cortisol levels, stress, and anxiety (in that order). It’s a no-brainer.

As promised I have also created my very own food list (actually infograph). It focuses specifically on omega-3 and magnesium and I want you to share it with at least one friend. You can download it here.

In this episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I discuss:

  1. The top cortisol crushing foods
  2. Why you should be more focused on your diet
  3. Specific foods you can eat to lower cortisol and stress
  4. And why most anxious people hate drugs

To listen, you can either click on the icon below or browse AG show episodes on iTunes.

anxiety, podcast

A Personal Challenge From Paul Dooley

anxiety, stress

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions because they don’t work.

The reality is that you can start to change on any given day. So I’m not going to ask you to set a goal with an arbitrary timeline.

Instead, I want you to reflect on a few things. For starters, what are you going to do differently this year to lower your anxiety?

I want you to take a step back and really think about that.

After you and I stop stuffing our faces with cookies and pie (or is that just me?) this holiday season it’s time to get serious about your recovery.

Actually, I’ve already started the process. Today I went through my email list and deleted nearly 1,500 people from it.

I deleted people that were not opening my emails or engaging in a meaningful way.

Now I didn’t go nuts. I only deleted people that have been disengaged for more than 3 months. I figure those people aren’t serious about getting better.

Or maybe they weren’t ready to change, or maybe my site wasn’t a good fit; whatever the reason I am going to focus on those of you that are still here.

I don’t say this often, or maybe I never have, but you guys are special to me. I work on this site because I know exactly how you feel.

I’ve actually felt most of the symptoms you complain about. I have had a thousand fake heart attacks and just as many panic attacks.

The thing is, I don’t anymore. And I want the same thing for you. That means that I’m going to get more serious as well.

That means high quality podcasts, useful information and a bigger effort on my part to connect with you this year.

So, going back to my challenge, head to the comments section below and tell me about what you could do differently this year.

I think that’s a good start.

Mental Health: The War at Home

vetToday’s post was written by U.S. Army veteran PM.

Warning: This article contains strong language.

Mental health doesn’t just affect a certain type of person.

It could affect anyone from kids, adults, men, women, black or white; it really does not matter.

Does being a veteran mean that I have a significant case of mental health issues?

No, it doesn’t.  But I would like to discuss the stigma that many veterans experience with you.

I spent 6 years in the Army, I spent one deployment in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. After my second deployment, I decided it was time for me to get out.

Being out of the military means having to adjust to different things.

One of those things just happens to be being asked by several different people if I have any mental health issues since getting out.

I never thought this was a big deal until I sat down and really thought about what they were asking.

I was pretty much being asked to disclose my medical history.

From a physical standpoint, it would be like me asking someone if they have ever had an STD; seems pretty inappropriate and unnecessary.

So why do people feel the need to ask me like I am going to tell them “Oh yeah, I’m all fucked up.”

Even if I was I would never tell anyone.

Is this the stigma that veterans are left with these days?

Is it because Hollywood paints every Iraq and Afghanistan veteran on TV and in the movies as a PTSD infused stick of dynamite ready to explode at any time?

An example that comes to mind is the movie “Brothers” where Tobey Maquire’s character comes back from war and ends up threatening his family and coming close to committing suicide before being admitted to the hospital.

But those on screen portrayals are often extreme and almost always inaccurate.

Now, I don’t expect everyone to understand the things I have done, places I have been, or the shit I have seen. I just want them to be more mindful.

As a civilian, if you’re not familiar with military service and all that it entails, please don’t ask about a veteran’s mental health status because for a lot of us this is a painful subject.

I tend to over-analyze and over-think a lot of things. So when I get asked about my mental state it makes me feel like in the back of their minds, people are thinking there has got to be something wrong with me.

If they didn’t believe there was something wrong with me then why would they ask the question?

This almost makes me feel like I should cover up my military service.

Like I should be ashamed because of the misinformation floating in the head of the person I am speaking with.

I need you to understand something. I raised my right hand and took an oath to defend this country.

Along with countless others who spent months if not years away from their families missing birthdays, holidays, graduations and reunions.

These same people lost friends but were still told, not asked, to shut the fuck up and carry on with the mission.

I can’t speak for every veteran but for myself and the others I have talked to we don’t mind communicating our military service but you shouldn’t ask if I have been to war.

You shouldn’t ask if I am mentally unstable. You shouldn’t ask if I have killed anyone or seen anyone die.

We are just like you, we have feelings, emotions and thoughts; and we don’t always want to tap back into them just to satisfy someone else’s curiosity.

Much like you wouldn’t ask a rape victim to recount their story. Why would you ask a war veteran to tell you theirs?

I am in no way attacking people or acting like all veterans have mental issues, but I am just asking that people be mindful of what they ask.

People are always fighting battles in their mind that no one knows about and it doesn’t matter if you were in the military or not.

Have you ever dealt with this type of issue? Share your story below.

You can also check me out on Facebook.

Why It’s Bad to Focus All Your Attention on Anxiety

anxiety, stress

If I asked you to tell me what anxiety is I’m sure you’d do a fine job.

After all, you know your stuff.

You could probably tell me a lot about what your anxiety feels like, what fear feels like, even what terror feels like.

I’m confident that you could give me all the intricate details.

In fact, I’m sure you and I could easily get lost in the details of your latest complaint, but what would be the point?

I know why you do it. You’re on the lookout for danger. You’re anticipating, calculating, always watching.

To be fair, I understand this tendency quite well. I was the same way for the better part of a decade.

But I can assure you that this approach is a dead end.

One of the most important things I ever did to get better was to take a step back and look at the basic details.

basic (adjective) \’ba-sik also – zik\

: forming or relating to the most important part of something.”          -Merriam Webster

I got away from my moment to moment safety analysis and instead took a dive into the engine that drove my fear.

Because you see, your real problem is fearfulness.

But here’s the kicker, the thing that generates your scary symptoms isn’t fear. It’s stress. But not just any old kind of stress.

Fearfulness (noun)

: the emotion experienced in the presence or threat of danger.”

– Merriam Webster

Over time I realized that what I had to address was chronic stress, rather than its more mysterious cousins anxiety and fear.

Of course, stress and anxiety are not the same. Believe me, I know that you’re not simply stressed out.

Chronic stress is different though. It comes with some serious side effects. Actually, they look pretty familiar, right?

  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • depression
  • social isolation
  • stomach problems
  • sleep problems
  • problems concentrating
  • hypertension
  • back pain

Now, if you stay stressed long enough you can indeed develop abnormal anxiety (long-term anxiety and fear).

But what I want you to understand is that fighting anxiety directly is like fighting a ghost.

That’s why most of your recovery efforts must target anxiety indirectly. And today I’m going to show you how to do that.

In this episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I discuss:

  • The difference between stress and anxiety
  • Why you should be more focused on stress reduction
  • Specific ways of lowering stress
  • Benefits of stress reduction

To listen, you can either click on the icon below or browse AG show episodes on iTunes.

anxiety, podcast

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Valerie Murphy

I am psyched to introduce you to AG’s first full time contributor Valerie Murphy. I met Valerie over 3 years ago at my first internship. I always thought that Valerie was a blast to be around, but I later found out that she also happened to be an anxious person! I had so many questions.

Over time we became friends and eventually I asked her to share her knowledge and experience with my audience here at AG. Over the past few months we have been working hard to develop new material and even plan to start a free webinar series to strengthen your understanding of stress and anxiety. Please join me in welcoming her to AG! – Paul Dooley

As I look back over my life I think there’s a theme developing.

What used to be Carpe Diem for me, or “Seize the Day,” has turned into “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!”

I was born anxious. I have an anxious family. I even attended a fundamental Christian school for 12 years.

Due to my background I’ve often heard people talk a lot about what you can’t do, what you shouldn’t do, about what if’s.

I’ve heard even more said about minding other people’s, or even God’s, opinion about the things I do. No pressure, right?

After trying out a number of different careers, and not succeeding at any of them, the fear began to grow.

That is, until I decided to finally follow my passion for helping others become a better version of themselves.

I have seen more success in the field of Psychology than any other, which has lessened my fears.

But don’t get me wrong, there are many times when I have been so anxious about a task that all I could see was a blinding white light.

In those moments I couldn’t even think straight and there were even times when I would call in sick for the sheer fact of being overwhelmed.

When I taught my first class of 27 students this was my experience. I still remember standing in the hallway waiting for the classroom to open up for us to enter.

I remember thinking that I wanted to run away, but also knew that there was no way out. I was committed.

I remember telling myself that I could not believe that the weight of a 2 hr class was on my shoulders. I had to lead this classroom of 27 students for 2 hours and I had no idea how this was going to go.

Now 4 years later I have taught 4 hour classes for anywhere from 15-25 students and I sail right through them. In my student feedback survey’s I often score 98%-100% in student satisfaction.

At the same time I started Toastmasters, a public speaking club. It probably took me at least 10 speeches to not have the thought of canceling only days before and making up some lie to get out of it.

On the way to Toastmasters on the day of my first speech, I was so nervous I kept rehearsing the speech over and over again in my head to the point that I missed my exit to get off the highway!

I thought for sure I was going to be late for my first speech. In the beginning I would always use notes, prepare for a speech a month ahead and talk so fast that the audience couldn’t process everything I was saying.

Now 4 years later, I am the president of my local Toastmasters club.

What I have learned from these experiences is how to feel the fear and do it anyway. What I want to share with you is that eventually the fear will subside and success, competence, and confidence will take its place.

I fully experienced this for the first time this year. During one meeting I noticed that my heart wasn’t racing, my hands and feet weren’t sweaty and I could think when they called on me to explain my role for the day.

Most recently, what I come to fully realize is anxiety is a thing I have to work on every day.

On a daily basis I have to consciously choose to work on my anxiety the same way I have to work on getting in shape or having a deeper relationship with my Higher Power.

When Paul asked me how I balance having the clinical knowledge that I do with my real life, in your face anxiety, the following steps came to my mind:

1. Make a plan and WORK the plan

I think two things happen when you tend to be an anxious person. One checking off a “To Do” list gives us a sense of accomplishment but two, decreases anxiety because there is one less thing to think about.

The plan must have 2 elements: 1) Be specific and 2) Realistic. By specific I mean time block tasks that need to be done.

I have even taken an inventory of how many working hours I have in a week and then how much time each task I want to accomplish that week will take.

For example, I will schedule when I work out, meditate/pray, my hobbies and actions steps needed to further my knowledge in my career.

I take this schedule with me to the office and back home so I can reference it throughout the day to stay focused.

Anxious people tend to lose focus easily and having this plan with me keeps me on track. All that being said, just remember this: whatever you track will improve.

2. Have a goal larger than yourself

Being hired on as a professor scared the heck out of me! Then I added on another challenge by joining Toastmasters.

I had to teach to supplement the minimal wages I was making as an intern, so not teaching wasn’t an option. I was terrified that I would have 27 strangers staring at me thinking, “Who is this chick? And why doesn’t she go teach First Graders!”

It’s this fear that kept me going back to Toastmasters until one day the fear went away and now I offer my expertise to new members.

Next time fear seizes you and all you want to do is hide, call in sick or lie your way out of it, remember fear is just a thing.

When you face your fear head on then what can fear really do to you?

Facing your fears is like shining a floodlight in a dark closet. Once there is light there is no darkness.

Also, can I just say something? I am so excited to be a member of the AG team.

I look forward to hearing your stories, getting to know you and walking with you on your journey towards recovery.

If you’d like to drop me a line please send it to valerie@anxietyguru.net.

And take a listen to my interview with Paul below!

anxiety, podcast

How the Right Foods Can Improve Your Mood

anxiety diet

One of the biggest concerns for the average person with anxiety is figuring out how to decrease their physical symptoms.

For the vast majority, that means endless hours researching deep breathing, yoga, or feel good quotes.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that if you take meditation and yoga seriously that you will see results, but how many people do?

That’s why the motivation factor is all-important. Rather unfortunately people get discouraged if they don’t see results within a few days.

Bottom-line is that if it takes too long to master their chosen means of improvement people abandon it.

That sounds strange, but when you consider how hard it is to grasp meditation, for example, you start to understand why so many people give up on it (I still recommend it though).

But what if there were something a little easier?

What if I told you that changing your diet could seriously improve your mood and thereby decrease anxiety symptoms as well?

See here’s the thing; you already know how to eat. You have to do it anyway (or die), and obviously you can read a food list.

All the main ingredients you need to make this plan work are already in place. What you need now is a basic blueprint that you can build on.

Now I know that this isn’t exactly earth-shattering information. After all, it has been mentioned on AG before.

However, I never got into the details. I basically didn’t give you a reason to care about food as a means of reducing anxiety.

So what I want to do is make it up to you. I’m going to start by sending my newsletter supporters specific tips that they can use to turn their diets into a weapon of mass improvement.

You see, I recently sent out a mass email asking my listeners what they were struggling with the most and I got over 100 responses.

I want you to know that I heard you loud and clear.

I plan to provide you with actionable tips over the next several weeks to help you reduce palpitations and other physical symptoms.

And not just through diet advice, either. I’m putting together an assortment of tips that can be implemented on a daily basis.

So if you’re not already on my email list I strongly encourage you to get on it (see the black box below).

To kick things off this week I interviewed Evan Brand of Not Just Paleo.

Evan was kind enough to come onto the podcast and give us an overview of how diet impacts stress and anxiety levels.

In this episode, Evan and I discuss:

  • His personal story of success
  • How to use food to balance mood and energy levels
  • Specific foods that you can start eating today to lower anxiety
  • What you need to know about how the body processes food
  • Why modern diets can add to stress levels
  • Evan’s one critical piece of advice for anyone that wants to regain balance in their life

To listen, you can either click on the listen icon below, or browse AG show episodes on iTunes.

anxiety, podcast

3 Essential Tips for Anxious Parents

parenting, anxiety

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my room, grinding my teeth, when my inner voice exploded with anger: Enough!

His screams had made their way deep inside the part of my brain that houses rage and I just couldn’t contain myself anymore.

So I bounced up and stormed in his direction. When I had him cornered I glared at him and demanded silence.

I pointed at him and shouted: Stop! He looked back at me with a quivering lower lip and these sad, sad eyes that made me feel like total garbage.

You see, the guy I was yelling at was my 3 year old son Nathan.

And what’s worse is that it wasn’t the first time I had snapped at him.

At the time I felt like I couldn’t enjoy my son, or my wife for that matter.

And it wasn’t until much later that I realized that my high anxiety had begun to poison my most cherished relationships.

Luckily, over the past few years I’ve been able to reconnect with my family.

But it wasn’t easy. Mostly because anxiety is a consumer. It eats up all the fun, the love, everything. Until all that’s left is anger and resentment.

That’s why it’s important to understand some of the common pitfalls that you could face as an anxious parent.

Fewer Hugs and Smiles

I’m about to generalize, so be warned. But anxious parents aren’t as loving as they could be.

Studies have shown that moms and dads that live with abnormal anxiety smile, hug and praise their children less than their non-anxious counterparts.

It’s thought that the decreased emotional expression in anxious parents stems from a desire to keep control of their feelings.

After all, if you feel too much you’ll go nuts, right? At least that’s what the anxious brain repeats.

When I had high anxiety I would hug and kiss my son (we’ve since had another boy) but I somehow always felt distant and flat.

I went through the motions of being a happy dad but lacked the feelings of happiness that usually come with a good hug, for example.

I’d even see Nathan smack a plastic baseball deep into our backyard and I’d give him the saddest excuse for a smile you’ve ever seen.

Looking back, I think I was trying to protect myself. I was playing defense against the looming disasters that constantly occupied my mind.

But while I maintained my perpetual vigilance my family was paying the price.

Tip #1: Increase warmth and awareness

It takes some practice, but try to get better at spotting when you are self-analyzing too much.

It would be ridiculous for me to ask you to stop altogether, but there’s a good chance that you already notice when you’re lost in thought. Use this as a cue.

When it happens make an effort to engage people around you; especially your kids who need your warmth and affection.

It matters. Hug your kids and tell them you love them. And keep doing it until you can feel the warmth too.

The Invisible Scars of Criticism

When I was a kid my parents were hard on me. It wasn’t unusual for them to lace their parental instructions with insults of one kind or another.

Now I doubt that you’re verbally abusing your kids, but if you’re an anxious parent there’s a good chance that you often make negative comments.

This kind of makes sense when you consider that the anxious mind is over-focused on negativity in general, but harsh criticism can be hurtful.

Tip #2: Embrace the full cup concept

A helpful remedy is to use positive reframing, which is basically looking at the good in any situation.

Reframing won’t change what your kid did wrong, but it can change the perspective that you adopt when dealing with a difficult situation.

This can help reduce the frequency of negative interactions and allow your kids to correct mistakes without feeling ashamed.

My Way or No Way

Anxious parents can also be controlling. Some researchers theorize that this is because anxious parents perceive a lack of control in their own lives.

This can cause some parents to overcompensate and exert too much control over their kids creating an authoritarian parenting style.

The ugly side to this is that kids who aren’t allowed to explore and experience natural consequences (within reason) develop low self-esteem and a more limited belief in themselves.

Tip #3: Let freedom ring

If you want to help your kids develop a strong belief in their ability to succeed in life then grant them more autonomy.

Let them make mistakes and help them to learn from their mistakes rather than shielding them at every turn.

And although there has to be limits, let your kid be a kid. That means letting them be loud and unruly during playtime.

That means letting them express themselves (appropriately) without fear of retribution. In short, don’t be a tyrant.

Show Them How It’s Done

Perhaps the best way to be all you can be in the parenting department is to take care of yourself.

If you address your anxiety problem your family will benefit from having a healthier version of you around.

Plus, when you face your fears and overcome adversity, I believe that you’re being a true role model hero for your kids.

Your recovery will teach them that they are not helpless victims.

It will show them that they have the power to make a positive change when things get tough, which is a powerful gift.

In this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I talk about my journey as an anxious parent and how I turned things around.

I also have a few extra tips that I didn’t mention in this post. So take a listen and leave your brilliant comments below!

anxiety, podcast

Can a Panic Attack Trigger Anxiety Forever?

panic attack

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Let me take a wild guess. You’re not exactly sure if you’re going to get better, right?

This is especially true if you were dragged into anxiety by one of those “out of the blue” panic attacks.

Although not all anxiety problems are triggered by panic, many are. That was the case for me.

I remember it well. A crashing wave of fear terror mixed with palpitations, dizziness, sweating and the sense that I just might not make it out alive.

But you know what? I did make it out alive. And so will you. No matter how bad it gets, you’re not dying.

Yet, and I’m just being honest with you, having a panic attack can trigger long-term problems with anxiety.

In some ways you’re just never the same. Panic attacks have a special way of bringing you face to face with fear and mortality like nothing else can.

But that’s certainly not the whole story.

Although your first panic attack seemed random, chances are that it wasn’t random at all.

Most anxiety disorders are triggered by a perfect storm of circumstances which usually start with family history.

Maybe it was your mom, your grandma, or some long forgotten relative that passed on the fear bug, but usually abnormal anxiety is born in DNA.

That being said, sometimes abnormal anxiety stems from major life transitions which in some people causes a tremendous amount of stress.

Add to that major triggers, like trauma, health problems (real or perceived), even drug use and bang, we have a problem.

The combination of an underlying vulnerability, mixed with real life problems, can open you up to a significant stress response, like a panic attack, for example.

But, of course, that’s just one piece of the puzzle. There’s also the psychological aftermath to contend with.

Panic attacks are a lot of things, including rare. It’s not like most people know what they feel like or even what they are.

So when you were struck with panic you may not have known what was happening to you and therefore didn’t have the words to describe the experience accurately.

What’s more likely is that you used words you already knew to sort out what was happening. The trouble with that is that most words in your vocabulary don’t come close to describing anxiety correctly.

So your panic attack turned into “heart attack,” or “crazy.” There was simply no point of reference.

This leaves a long-lasting imprint on your brain. One that screams danger and death every time anything even remotely close to your panic symptoms reappear.

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to decrease the impact that your first panic attack had on you.

You can even change the negative thinking that has sparked your long running battle with fear (that’s what this is really about).

Anyway, like good ole Albert pointed out, solving problems takes a new way of thinking. And that’s what I want to help you with today.

So in this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I explore:

  1. The difference between causes and triggers of abnormal anxiety
  2. Why panic attacks cause long-term problems
  3. How to understand exactly what happened to you
  4. And what you can do about it

To listen, just click on the listen icon. And don’t forget to leave your brilliant comments below!

anxiety, podcast