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

Does Exposing Yourself to Your Fears Really Work?

expsure therapy, erp

It’s an interesting question that I’m sure you’ve wondered about before.

I mean, it’s like you don’t want to overcome your health phobia or fear of flying, right? Of course you do. It’s not a lack of desire on your part that holds you back.

More likely, it’s knowing that exposure to your fears could make you feel worse.

But that’s why it’s important to remember that when you use exposure to extinguish your fears it should be done gradually.

That’s the most important lesson I learned from this week’s podcast guest Guy Oberwise, LCSW.

Guy is the mood and anxiety coordinator at Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment facility in Lemont, Illinois.

Guy pointed out that when you use exposure you don’t go directly from a fear of snakes to handling one, for example.

You take small steps towards facing your fears in a controlled manner. The sucky part is that recovery can take a while.

In fact, Guy shared a funny (and insightful) conversation with a resident that wondered why her anxiety wasn’t lowering despite trying meditation a few times.

Well it turned out that she had struggled with anxiety for years. But after just a few attempts at relaxation she expected big results.

And that’s a thing. People expecting quick results when they are wrapped up in a complex problem.

Anxiety reduction, whether through exposure or some other means, comes at a price.

That price includes time, patience and hard work. It may also include a bit of pain and discomfort. That’s just the truth.

But if you are willing to face your fears you will inevitably reap the rewards. You will also find out a lot about yourself and how to move forward.

Not just in terms of anxiety, but life in general. So join me for this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show.

Don’t forget to leave your brilliant comments below!

anxiety, podcast

How to Harness the Power of Self-Hypnosis (Free Audio Guide)

self-hypnosis

After my talk with Dr. Randolph Shipon, I thought it would be helpful to share a short guided hypnosis.

I teamed up with psychologist Dyan Haspel-Johnson, PhD to create it.

She said this about the recording:

“To use this self-hypnosis recording, find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down to listen.

Please do not listen to this while driving or engaging in other activities.

It would be great for you to incorporate this into your day so you can take a break in your office, at home, parked in your car, etc.

Feel free to listen at whatever time feels best for you and is convenient but it might be interesting to observe what happens if you practice this technique in the afternoon, especially around 3pm or 4pm.

That is the time when many people crave sugar or caffeine or feel tired or stressed. I have found that listening to or practicing self-hypnosis at some point during the day (rather than only just before bed or first thing in the morning) is particularly effective in alleviating anxiety, supporting sleep, and improving an overall sense of well-being.

I believe that this is because it breaks the cycle of the day and trains the body and mind to center itself.

When you build this technique into your life, you may find that you have an easier time breaking the cycles of anxiety or panic that might have felt overwhelming in the past.

Lastly, I have built into this recording some focus on the hands. You can remember that experience throughout the day or night and use it to calm, center, and empower yourself. That is self-hypnosis!”

I want to thank Dr. Dyan for taking the time to create this self-hypnosis recording. I hope it helps you to relax a bit.

anxiety, podcast

Audio Only

anxiety, podcast

Podcast Version

This Is How Hypnotherapy Lowers Anxiety

hypnotherapy, hypnosis

Last week someone asked me if hypnotherapy was effective and whether or not it could be combined with other types of therapy.

It’s a good question. But I couldn’t answer it since I’ve never had a particular interest in hypnosis.

I guess it’s because I’ve always associated hypnosis with stage acts.

But man, was I wrong.

  1. In 1955 the British Medical Association issued a report stating that hypnosis was a valuable medical tool.
  2. In 1958 the American Medical Association recognized hypnosis as a viable scientific modality.
  3. In 1962 the American Psychiatric Association recognized that hypnosis was a viable modality to treat some psychological problems.
  4. The British Psychological Society wrote a report in 2001 called The Nature of Hypnosis declaring that it is a real thing – it has valid clinical, research, forensic investigation and training uses.

Here’s what else I learned:

Hypnotherapy is a legitimate form of therapy that is very effective when combined with other forms of therapy like CBT.

In fact, in 1995 a meta-analysis of 18 studies showed that when hypnotherapy was combined with CBT it improved outcomes by 70%.

It’s also not magical. Hypnosis is simply focused awareness coupled with guided visualization.

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing psychologist Randolph Shipon PhD,  a New Jersey based hypnotherapist that was kind enough to educate me on the topic.

Dr. Shipon described hypnosis as a way of re-imagining the future.

It’s also practical. You can undergo hypnotherapy in as little as six sessions.

All that being said, I can see why the idea of being hypnotized might freak you out, so it may be comforting to know that hypnosis is nothing new.

One of the most surprising things I found is that its roots go far back into ancient times.

Hypnosis (a type of trance) was originally used as a means of communicating with the gods and healing.

Modern hypnosis can be traced back to German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815).

He practiced something called mesmerism; the act of holding someones attention entirely.

People that undergo hypnosis are not slaves to suggestion though, they are actually hyper-aware.

I can see why this works actually. Anxiety has a nasty way of fixating the mind on the negative.

It robs you of the ability to imagine a future without fear.

As far as I can tell, hypnosis allows you to suspend the fear factor and shape a new way forward.

In this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I explore how hypnosis can lower anxiety. I hope you enjoy the podcast.

And don’t forget to share your brilliant comments below!

anxiety, podcast

How to Manage Everyday Anxiety

anxiety, stress

It makes sense why people focus their attention on things like panic attacks and crises of the week (COWS).

But what about everyday anxiety? To me this anxiety is far worse.

A panic attack comes and goes in a flash, but daily anxiety grinds on you over a long period of time.

This, of course, can impact your self-esteem, level of resilience and quality of life, which gets old quick.

So on today’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I discuss everyday anxiety and what you can do to manage it better.

I also interviewed one of my coaching clients to help you gain some insight into the work I do with people one on one.

I often mention my coaching service on the podcast but not in detail. I guess I was waiting to make sure that it didn’t suck.

The good news is that it doesn’t. The feedback that I’ve been getting has been tremendous.

I brought Tommy onto the show to share his experience with anxiety and my coaching service because like many of you he started out as a listener.

Once I opened the doors to the coaching service Tommy was one of the first to sign up. He has really undergone a significant transformation that’s been amazing to witness.

There’s no doubt that there is a lot of work ahead of him, but it fills me with joy (yeah I said joy) to see him doing so much better.

If you want to learn more about my coaching service visit my coaching page here.

anxiety, podcast