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

From Bad to Worse: My Struggle With Hypochondria

hypochondria, anxiety

This week’s article is brought to you by Anxiety Guru reader Ashley. She was kind enough to share her story with us and provide a detailed glimpse into the world of health phobia and how she’s learning to cope. – Paul Dooley

I am a Christian. I have three beautiful children, a wonderful handsome husband, and a loving supportive extended family. I am a blessed girl.

I have always considered myself a worrier. But, it was more of a funny thing. Something that made me quirky. To cut right to the beginning of recent events, I’ll just start.

In the beginning…

My husband and I had some friends who were unable to conceive a child on their own. They would need a surrogate to carry their biological embryos.

We decided that I would volunteer to be their surrogate. They agreed and thus our story begins.

After about a year of contracts, lawyers and counselors, we were able to begin doctor appointments.

I began injections, pills, and patches to prepare my body to become pregnant. After a few months, we were ready to do our first transfer.

We transferred two of their embryos into me and waited.

Unfortunately, neither one took. After three months, we began the process again. More injections, patches, and pills. We transferred two more embryos.

This time, I was pregnant! We found out there was one baby with a heartbeat and we were so excited!

At around 8 weeks, we found out the baby had died. The heartbeat was gone and no longer visible on ultrasound. We were devastated. The doctor encouraged me to try to miscarry naturally. So we waited.

Three weeks later, when I began to be in a lot of pain, I went back into the doctor’s office. They did a procedure to try to help things along. This caused me to hemorrhage and I began to bleed a whole lot.

After about 30 minutes of bleeding, I began to get very lightheaded and passed out. I woke up to them calling an ambulance.

My mom was with me as well as my three year old son and my little sister. Everyone was very worried.

Once at the hospital I passed out several more times and had an emergency D & C. My husband came and by the time it was all over and I was headed home, only 8 hours had passed and I had lost 2 liters of blood.

The baby was gone and the miscarriage was over. I rested over the weekend and felt I was getting stronger. Sunday night, I had what I now know was my very first panic attack.

I was in the bathroom (of all places) and began to feel lightheaded and dizzy and my heart started to pound.

I flashed cold-sweat clammy from head to toe and began to cry.

I had no idea what was happening to me. I thought I was having some sort of complication from the surgery. I. Was. WIGGIN. My husband held me until I fell asleep.

I woke up Monday and decided that what happened to me was too scary to deal with. And that I would forget it. Literally pretend that it didn’t happen.

I showered, fixed my hair, did my make-up, got dressed all cute and then proceeded to throw away everything that reminded me of my surrogacy experience.

I threw away maternity clothes, frozen meals people had prepared for me, flowers people had sent me, cards, paperwork, everything.

People who would text me and ask how I was, I wouldn’t respond to. People who reminded me of surrogacy or pregnancy, I defriended from Facebook.

I straight pretended it didn’t happen.

And it worked! Or so I thought. I began to get stronger mentally and physically and moved on. During the next couple months, my son had his third birthday party.

My husband and I started our own business (Crazy, right?).

We began planning and paying for a once-in-a-lifetime super expensive trip to Disney World for our family. We bought a new truck.

I taught Bible study at Vacation Bible School. I started a community organization that promotes shopping locally called the cashMOB.

I planned play dates and parties and summer fun for our kids. I kept a clean house and made dinner nearly every night.

We attended church every Sunday and Wednesday.

I hung out with friends and went on dates with my husband. I was fine, I thought.

Anxiety meets the body

For about 4 weeks leading up to where the hit fit the shan, I had been having weird heart beats that felt like they were in my throat.

But, I just blew it off thinking it was maybe because of this weight loss stuff I had been taking. I stopped taking the weight loss junk, but the “weird beats” kept happening.

They would happen when I was just sitting on the couch watching TV. No exertion, no stress. I also got a fever blister, which I normally get after being stressed out.

But, I didn’t feel stressed. I just kept on truckin’.

The weekend before I broke, my kids were spending the weekend with my parents and my hubby and I were having a rare weekend to ourselves.

We went to dinner and I remember feeling not hungry (which is definitely weird for me).

I realized I hadn’t really eaten anything in a couple days and had hardly noticed. Still, I kept on being me.

We decided to redecorate our kids’ rooms while they were gone to surprise them. I never knew what was happening inside me. Never recognized the warning signs.

Everything changed on Monday, July 7. I took my kids to swimming lessons.

While waiting for a parking spot in the parking lot, someone backed into our car. It was a minor fender bender and everyone was okay.

We got it handled with the police and I got my kids all done with swimming lessons and we headed home.

In the afternoon, while my kids were watching a movie, I had another weird heartbeat, but this time, I flashed clammy-sweaty all over again, got very lightheaded, and began to freak out.

Welcome to cyberchondria

I then committed what I now know to be anxiety no-no number one. I googled my symptoms.

Panic at the disco. I have congestive heart failure. I stew and worry and stew and worry for two days.

Slowly and surely convincing myself that I have a heart problem.

On Wednesday, I went to the doctor. I marched in like one walking the green mile sure I would hear the words that would doom me to heart disease.

After all, I’d done such extensive research the last couple of days and I had every single symptom.

My doctor listened patiently and did an EKG. My heart was fine.

She said I had anxiety and gave me a script for some Zoloft and sent me home. I expected to feel relieved. But it never came.

In the past, if I’d ever freaked out about an illness or injury either for myself or my child.

Once I went to the doctor and found out that the big, scary thing I’d feared was not actually what the problem was, relief would wash over me and I would feel silly for being so irrational and emotional. Where was my relief?

I started the Zoloft, but I grew more and more anxious as the week went on. I decided I felt so bad, that if it wasn’t my heart, it MUST be something else physical.

Because no way could anxiety, a “feeling,” do so much to me. I took the Zoloft for 6 days and then stopped. I decided it was making me feel worse.

I called back into the doctor’s office, she called in something called hydroxyzine.

That did nothing but give me a wicked bad headache. So I quit taking that.

Anxiety research gone wrong

Then the cycle began. After the heart concerns, it changed to cervical or breast cancer.

After all, I’d had all those artificial hormones pumped into me and everyone knows extra hormones cause cancer.

In my Wednesday night class, we had been praying for a friend’s relative that was my age and had breast cancer.

In my head, I replaced her in the story, with myself. Taking her tragedy as my own.

As it happened, I already had my yearly visit to my ob-gyn scheduled for the next week. So I spent the days leading up to that appointment picturing my life with cancer.

Once again, googling every variation of symptoms I happened to be feeling at the moment.

I spent hours in front of the computer desperately searching for something that would convince me that I was healthy. Of course, I found the contrary.

When the day came for my appointment, I was a bundle of nerves, but yet again, resigned to what I was sure was my fate.

As my doctor, who delivered all three of my babies and I trust implicitly, assured me that I was healthy, I began to feel the relief I was waiting for.

He had examined me thoroughly and he told me I could move on from the surrogacy experience.

He said that everything looked normal and that the hormones would have no lasting effect on my body.

I went home with a blossom of hope that maybe this was over.

Nope. I began to have diarrhea frequently and noticed that due to my lack of appetite I was losing weight. For the first time in my life without trying.

It occurred to me one day that my dad’s mom died when he was 13 of colon cancer. Suddenly, I was sure I had that. More googling. More despair.

The next week, I felt something in the back of my throat. I felt it for more than three days in a row. Yep. You guessed it; I diagnosed myself with throat cancer.

My step-dad had just gone through that two years before. I actually went to the ENT over this one. Of course, I’m fine!

During all of this, I forced myself to carry on with my life. My birthday came and went and I pretended to enjoy it, for my family’s sake.

I made sure to make the last few weeks of summer memorable and full of fun for my children.

I kept going to church and visiting with friends and showering and cooking and cleaning and doing what I was supposed to do. It was and still is excruciating.

I had thrown myself into Bible study more than ever before. I read through a book called Calm my Anxious Heart, I spent hours in prayer, I started going to a group called Celebrate Recovery that is similar to AA, except for lots of other issues too.

“Hi, my name is Ashley, I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ and I struggle with anxiety.” The whole bit.

I got pedicures, I got a massage, I went to the chiropractor, I started essential oils for peace and tranquility, I tried to sleep longer, make myself eat better, have more sex, deep breathe, anything I could think of.

I started seeing a counselor. I went to her for three sessions. In those sessions, she told me I didn’t have an anxiety problem, I had a faith problem.

She doubted whether I’d ever been truly saved.

She said that by saying my fears out loud, I was challenging Satan to do them to me.

That by saying out loud, I’d never turn from God, I was challenging Satan to try to get me to. I quit going after that one.

She just kept quoting scripture at me. I knew the scripture, but something somewhere wasn’t lining up in my head. Did I believe that God would deliver me in His time?

Oh, yes. Did it hurt to live in it? You bet. I couldn’t, I can’t just sit in this misery.

While at a friend’s house letting our kids play, she told me all about this lady she knew who was our age who had gotten a case of strep throat and hadn’t gotten an antibiotic.

She thought she had healed on her own and carried on with her life. Turns out the infection moved to her heart and now she was in heart failure and was going to die.

She showed me a write up they had done on her in the newspaper. There she was, surrounded by her three children, in a hospital bed there with the fruit and flowers.

And, of course, I put myself in her place. And, boom, we’re back to the mother freakin’ heart concerns.

I stewed and googled on that one for a few days. And then a horrifying thought occurred to me. If there’s really nothing physically wrong with me, then I’m doing this to myself.

Am I going crazy? Like, no joke, fruit loop, for real crazy? Is this what it feels like? I then I began to picture it. My kids having to come visit me in the loony bin.

I got stuck here for a week, I think. This one was terrifying.

One evening I went to a rodeo with my family. While I was there I pointed at something with my left hand and noticed that my left hand was shaking. Like a tremor.

So I began to compare my left hand to my right in various positions.

Has my left hand always been shakier than my right? Wait, is that weakness in my left hand and arm? I spent the next couple of days looking at my hands. Comparing them to each other.

And staring at other people’s hands. Do theirs shake more than mine? Suddenly, something scary snapped into place in my brain.

Muscle twitches. I’d had them for years. I’d never really worried about them before, they were minor.

But now, combined with the tremor, that was there sometimes and not there sometimes and the dizziness that I thought I’d been feeling… I should google that. HUGE MISTAKE! I have ALS, or if I’m lucky, Parkinson’s or MS.

The more I thought about the twitches, the more I got. In new places that had never twitched before and harder, longer lasting twitches. When I focused on the twitches, they got worse.

When I focused on the tremor, it got worse. When I focused on the dizziness, it got worse.
I had a check-up appointment already scheduled with my doctor the next week. So I consumed myself in “research.”

After all, I needed to know what to expect. When the day of my appointment came, I could see a pattern developing.

I would go in expecting the worst and come out with a “you’re fine.” So I was about 50/50 hope and dread.

When I asked if the twitches, shaking hands and dizziness were normal for someone having high levels of anxiety, she replied, ‘what’s normal?’ and shrugged.

She then rolled her eyes at me, told me ‘I was on a roll today,’ and asked ‘if I’d had too much caffeine today.’

She then said she’d refer me to a neurologist. Wait. What? Do I need to go to a neurologist? If I do, then it must be BAD! Oooohhh SNAP!

I was beyond worried. When I told my mom what had happened at the appointment, she asked me to come to her house about an hour away. I went the next day and she made me an appointment with her doctor.

He was my Sunday school teacher when I was younger and I trusted him very much. She went with me to the appointment where I gave him the abridged version of my story.

He never examined me but listened patiently and suggested Buspar with Xanax for some temporary ‘band-aid’ relief.

I practically drag-raced to the pharmacy. I was so excited to get some relief even if it was temporary.
I was so disappointed. I felt nothing. I called my mom’s doctor to tell them.

They said to take two Xanax. I still felt nothing. I was so looking forward to the relief! There was none for me. I started the Buspar and was hopeful that it would work.

Though, I knew that it wouldn’t be immediate. I made an appointment with a new counselor.

During that appointment, I knew this would be a different experience than with my previous counselor. This lady seemed to have some idea of how to teach me to help myself.

But she said, that we needed to ‘get my nails out of the ceiling’ before we began to work on that.

She said the Buspar was a great idea and wanted to see me after I’d been on the Buspar for two weeks.

Once again, I was sent home still stuck in my bajiggity-ness with no way that I knew of to get out.

I was still convinced I had some horrible neuro-muscular disease. Twitching, tremors and dizziness were at fever pitch. In fact the dizziness was worse since starting the Buspar.

I read on the sheet that came with it that dizziness was a common side effect, but still I was convinced that worsening dizziness meant a progressing disease.

It was around this time that Robin Williams committed suicide. Apparently he had struggled with depression for decades. Though I’d never had suicidal thoughts at all, I imagined my life as his might have been.

Consumed with terrible thoughts in my head while forcing myself to carry on a seemingly normal life, until one day, unable to take it anymore.

The next day, I got on Facebook and up in the corner where it shows what’s trending, I read this, “Robin Williams’ wife reveals he had Parkinson’s Disease.” I. Nearly. Expire.

After I pulled myself together, I called my husband at work and asked him to change my Facebook password and not tell me what it was.

I removed the app from my phone. I also swore to myself I would never EVER google my symptoms again. But, you know what they say about best laid plans.

I joined Gold’s Gym. Maybe I’ll give working out a try. I worked out for an hour and a half 4-5 days a week. After a lot of cardio, the shaking was worse which freaked me out.

Even though I knew that in previous workout experiences, I get pretty shaky for a while afterward.

I just kept going day to day filled with worry over my health while trying to hide it and lead a normal life.

It was around this time that things began to shift ever so slightly. Remember when I said I wouldn’t google my symptoms?

Yeah, that didn’t stick for long. I typed in tremors, muscle twitches, dizziness and anxiety.

One of the things it pulled up was an article called 10 most hated anxiety symptoms. It was on a website called Anxiety Guru.

This website began to change the way I looked at what was happening to me.

I spent hours reading and listening to pod casts. I began to feel like maybe, just maybe this WAS all anxiety.

Building a solution

And I began to formulate a plan on how to dig out.

I was feeling more normal than I’d felt in so long. Not quite back to myself, but on the way maybe? I decided I was on my way out of this until Sunday at church.

I was volunteering in the nursery when my right bicep and tricep began to jump and twitch like never before.

It was visible to not only me but to other people. It was jumping hard. It lasted for nearly 8 hours. The next day the back of my right calf began to buzz on and off for two days.

Still I worked out and still I carried on with life, but more convinced than ever that there was something majorly wrong with me.

On Thursday the neurologist office called and said they had a cancelation the next day and would I like to take the spot. I agreed.

My mom came with me to the appointment. The doctor was beyond everything I had prayed for. He was paternal and understanding and very comforting.

He examined me and did a series of reflex tests and asked me to do various things like touch my nose.

He had me hold my hands out to see the tremor I was talking about and wouldn’t you know it, they were rock steady.

He assured me I did not have ALS and bet me a million dollars that I had googled it, even though I did not mention that part. I told him he was right.

He told me that next time I had the urge to google my symptoms; instead he wanted me to watch internet porn.

You should have seen my mom’s face! He said of course he was joking, but that he had gotten my attention.

And that now every time I went to search for my symptoms, I would remember when he told me to watch porn and I would remember him telling me I was just fine.

I left feeling nearly buoyant. I came home determined to tackle my anxiety problem and move on with my life.

I knew from reading on the AG site, that it wouldn’t be an easy fix, but I felt ready to get started.

I listened to some more pod casts on ways to face and accept my anxiety. I began writing this story I am typing now.

I woke up today feeling excited to begin this new chapter in my story. The healing part.

But, instead I found myself once again focused on symptoms.

Today while making cookies for my family as well as some neighborhood boys who were practicing football in our front yard, my left arm and hand began to tremor pretty bad.

The more I focused on it and tried to make it stop, the worse it got. I started wondering if the neurologist had seen it doing what it was doing now, would he have still given me the all clear? Should I make another appointment?

Call his office? I probably do have something horrible…

I read and listened to a pod cast on the AG site about hypochondriasis. Is that what I have? What I am? If so, it sucks. Bad.

So now I’m pissed off. At myself. At everything. Will I ever be able to get past this? Will I ever stop driving myself crazy with what ifs?

Did this stem from the miscarriage experience? Is it residual post-partum hormones?

Is this something separate? I firmly believe this will not last forever. It can’t. It’s too much. I am exhausted.

I feel God drawing me closer to Him though this whole thing and for that, I am grateful.

I’m still deep in Bible study, still taking Buspar twice a day, still practicing deep breathing, still planning on meeting with the counselor, still learning about anxiety on AG.net.

I’m still twitching, still tremoring, still dizzy, still going through the motions of my life, still going to Celebrate Recovery, still using oils, still drinking calming tea, still off caffeine.

I’d do just about anything to get above this junk. Maybe naked yoga on a mountain top somewhere… we’ll see.

Do you have a story that you want to share on AG? If so, email Paul at info@anxietyguru.net.

Surprise! When Anxious Being Alone Is a Horrible Idea. Here’s What To Do Instead

social anxiety

In my 20′s I would often become gripped with fear because of frequent panic attacks, but instead of trying to reach out to people, I’d sprint to my bed and lay there for hours waiting for my anxiety to go away.

But this was a horrible idea given that a lack of social contact, especially in times of high stress, erodes your physical and mental health in a way that makes anxiety stronger.

In fact, you’re more likely to reinforce negative thought processes or even develop brand new fears when you spend too much time alone.

Every time I ran away from the world because of anxiety I gave it power, which allowed it to grow out of control. What changed my situation more than anything was reaching out to other people.

First I started by talking to my girlfriend (now my wife!) and sharing my wacky ideas with her.

Later on I started talking to my mom, my sister, my brother, and even a few friends. Eventually, I ended up speaking with a psychologist who helped tip the scales in my favor.

Strengthening my social support system was a crucial part of getting better.

Some of you might wonder if this is even possible, because isn’t that going to out you as “crazy” or something along those lines?

Listen, the tough guy thing only works in the movies. Everyone has problems of some kind or other, yours just happens to be related to anxiety.

What if a friend came to you during a divorce? What would you say? “Tough cookies amigo, I can’t help you with that!”

No. You’d try to help out, even if that meant simply listening to that person tell their story.

There is at least one person among your friends or family that would certainly do that for you if given the opportunity, right?

There is true power in human connections and it should not be overlooked.

Developing a strong social support system has some clear benefits.

Here are a few:

1. Reduction in negative perceptions. People in your “circle of trust” will hopefully call you out when your ideas are far-fetched.

They can help bring a more realistic view to your anxiety riddled ideas.

2. Increased use of coping skills. If you’re in therapy and/or taking medications having someone there to support and encourage you can serve as an enormous motivating factor when it comes to reaching your goals.

3. It’s good for your health. Isolated people have poorer health outcomes when compared to people linked to others.

The bottom-line is that you’re not alone. Even if you tell yourself that you have zero friends or family there is still someone out there willing to help.

It could be a therapist, a priest, a rabbi, a free help line, whatever, people are out there. The only reason why you would stay alone is because you choose to be.

The hard part is telling someone that you need help, trust me I know, but it can and should be done.

In this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I interviewed Tanya Peterson, author of the novel My Life in a Nutshell, to help me explore the importance of having a strong social support system.

Listen to this week’s podcast and comment below!

anxiety, podcast

3 Eye-Opening Insights About Meditation and Mindfulness

meditation

When you think of meditation you probably picture something like these guys.

Everyone wearing white, barefooted, and doing a real special kind of zoning out.

Well, that’s one picture anyway. But the reality of meditation is a lot more useful and varied than you might imagine.

In this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I explore meditation in a brand new way.

Usually I do a little research and combine it with my own experience to deliver something of value.

But this week I went above and beyond. I reached out to two meditation experts to help me understand the real value of meditation as a means of reducing anxiety.

I spoke to wellness expert Kathy Gruver PhD and mindfulness meditation teacher Devon Rath.

Both have years of experience with meditation and shared some really thought provoking ideas during our talk.

They opened my eyes to how meditation can take you far beyond relaxation and pave the way towards true emotional acceptance.

Looking back now, I realize that I was able to achieve emotional acceptance without meditation, but the road I took was crude and inefficient.

I learned a ton during my talk with Dr. Gruver and Devon. But here are the 3 most important things I learned:

1. Meditation teaches you acceptance. When you are meditating you’re not trying to silence your mind, rather you’re trying to train yourself to not judge your thoughts.

Simply thinking about acceptance can make it happen over time but it’s super hard. Meditation is a structured way of doing the same thing.

It requires patience and practice. The two most important parts of learning how to accept your anxious thoughts.

2. Meditation helps you tap into your “inner observer.” It’s the part of your mind that isn’t moved by fear or worry.

If you learn how to identity this part of your mind and make it stronger then you’re better able to contend with any feeling or thought without the urge to run away from it.

There is an enormous inner strength that all of us have but often don’t take the time to cultivate. Meditation helps you harvest the strength that’s already there.

3. Meditation comes in many shapes and sizes. Some people don’t feel comfortable with meditation because it conjures up images of far eastern religion.

But the truth is that meditation can be done in many different places, positions and doesn’t have to involve religion.

Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast and comment below!

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Conquering Anxiety: My Story

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Today’s post was written by former anxiety sufferer Elisa. I am grateful to Elisa for sharing her inspirational story with us here at AG. Don’t forget to visit Elisa at Averageyogini.com and share your comments with her below. – Paul Dooley

My Own Brand of Anxiety

My name is Elisa, and I’m an anxiety sufferer. I say “I am” rather than “I was” because the way I see it, anxiety is a little like alcoholism.

Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, even if you’re not currently drinking.

I AM an anxiety sufferer, even though I haven’t suffered from anxiety in over eight years.

Anxiety disorders run in my family. It would be weird if I DIDN’T have one. Name a phobia, I’ll name you a family member. Generalized Anxiety Disorder? You got it! Panic? In spades! Hypochondria? You bet.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that anxiety would find me, especially after having uprooted myself (and my husband), sold all my belongings and moved to Europe to get an MBA. But find me it did, and it hit me hard.

I’ll never know what triggered it, I suppose. Things were going well. My academic life was going swimmingly. I had plenty of interviews with very prestigious firms lined up for my MBA summer internship.

Sure, our funds were dwindling more quickly than I expected, but all in all my husband and I were not in a bad place.

And then one day, on our way back from a ski trip with a few classmates, from the backseat of our friend’s car I began getting this feeling that I couldn’t breathe.

So I took a deep breath. My lungs filled up with oxygen, and I immediately thought… “Oh my God, I’m not breathing properly?”

So I took a deep breath again. Again, my lungs filled up just as they’re supposed to, and again, I panicked, intensely focused on my breathing.

It had gotten dark and the mountain where we’d gone skiing outside of Barcelona felt a little remote.

My friends could tell just by looking in the rear-view mirror as I kept clutching my chest and taking long, drawn out breaths that something was bothering me.

We got to Barcelona fairly late that night, but despite my not turning blue in the face and passing out from “not breathing,” I made my husband take me to an Emergency Room.

Once there, they checked my vitals, confirmed they were completely normal, handed me some anxiolytics, and sent me home.

I can’t remember whether I took the pills or not. I’d had panic attacks before but I’d never been one to take medication.

The funny thing is, people think it’s because I think I’m too good for it, but it’s actually because I’m afraid of it!

I don’t like the feeling of not being in control of my body, and I don’t like anything that causes me to fall asleep before I’m damn good and ready to close my eyes and do it myself.

The next day was no better, and the days and nights that followed got progressively worse. I stayed home from school for a few days, thinking it would help. It didn’t.

My mind darted from worrying about my breathing, to worrying about someone breaking into our apartment and kidnapping me, to worrying about avian flu because I found a dead pigeon outside our balcony.

What started as an uneasy feeling and irrational thoughts began to snowball into a constant feeling of dread, and eventually continual physical stress. Anxiety was my faithful companion, day in, day out, 24/7, no matter what I did or thought about.

Like many people, I’ve tried looking up anxiety symptoms to “inform myself”. Really I was doing it just to confirm one more time that what I was experiencing was in fact anxiety and not Multiple Sclerosis or an aneurysm… or a stroke…. or some other horrible disease that no one had been able to detect.

From the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, I had shortness of breath, tightness in my chest, light-headedness, and many of the other lovely, classic symptoms of anxiety.

While researching, I never did find this one symptom, though, that haunted me the most throughout the time I was plagued with panic disorder.

It was like a very heavy weight had settled on my head, around my neck and on my shoulders. And then the crying set in. And the sinking feeling that I would somehow never find my old self again.

I developed a fear of eating. I was certain I would one day ingest something – new or familiar – that would cause a severe allergic reaction and send me into anaphylactic shock.

This DESPITE having had an allergy panel done and having found nothing but a mild allergy to grass pollen.

I began to lose weight – and I was fairly thin already. At the bottom of the barrel, at 5’4” I weighed 100 lbs – at 30 years old, that was 20 lbs less than my high school weight of 120. I looked terrible.

And I felt terrible. My husband didn’t know how to help me. I called my family back home every night crying. My parents didn’t know how to help me either.

And then finally, after reaching out to anyone and their mother who might have an inkling about how to make this anxiety go away, I connected with one of my cousins on my father’s side. Everything changed after that.

Therapy – The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Most people who try to help you through an episode of panic or anxiety will either dismiss your fears as irrational, or hold your hand, coddle you, and tell you everything will be okay.

That it’s just a panic attack and that things are going to be fine. That you are not, in fact, dying of avian flu / going to get kidnapped by terrorists / in danger of being hit by a nuclear bomb any time in the near future.

My cousin did something different. She shared her own story with me (I won’t tell it here – that’s her story to tell), having recovered from her own kind of anxiety many years earlier.

She also recommended a “tough love” brand of Brief Strategic Therapy that focuses on behavioral changes to help anxiety sufferers find their happiness again.

With the luxury of time behind me and many (8 now) years of reflection, I can clearly distill these behaviors into three principles that I continue to apply in my everyday life to keep anxiety firmly in its place: independence, non-avoidance, and acceptance.

Those are my own words, rather than how my therapist would have described them, but the spirit of these concepts remains.

The therapy, which lasted about eight sessions over the course of several months, was less about discovering the root of my anxiety and more about creating behaviors that disrupted the vicious cycle I found myself in.

My therapist – her name was Adela, and her office smelled like PEACE – would meet with me during these sessions and give me exercises to carry out between one meeting and the next that were designed to create new habits reflecting the principles I highlighted above.

I wasn’t allowed to ask why or delve too much into the mechanics of it all, but for some reason I trusted this method from the beginning and jumped eagerly into my exercises.

Eight sessions and many exercises later, I could finally breathe again. The mental symptoms began to abate first, and then the physical ones. I found an occasional spring in my step again.

The depression subsided. My outlook on my life changed, permanently, and when I finished my MBA in the spring of 2007 I felt doubly accomplished in what I’d achieved.

I’d climbed out of a deep hole, on my own, and had finished my studies just as I’d set out to do two years earlier.

Here’s how it all unfolded:

Independence – No One Can Save You But You

Anxious people (or at least this anxious person) tend to reach out to others for help in their worst moments. Well-meaning friends and family offer to hold our hands as we encounter something that makes us anxious – just to take the edge off.

We call our friends and relatives to ask for “advice” on our anxiety. I say “advice” in quotes, because really what we’re looking for is validation. Validation that what we’re experiencing is just anxiety.

Validation that our thoughts are irrational. Validation, even, that we’re making the right choices in our lives – whether it’s about our anxiety or not.

The first thing I was asked to do in therapy was to not under any circumstances discuss my anxiety with anyone but my therapist. If I was afraid, I had to keep it to myself. If I was having a crisis, I had to slog through it on my own.

The one caveat to this was that I was allowed to have a journal where I could write out my thoughts – stream of consciousness – whenever I felt the need for release.

My husband was brought in to this strategy during our first session with the therapist, and he tentatively agreed, and then consistently stuck with it.

He didn’t ask me whether I felt anxious when he saw me fretting or wringing my hands.

He just sat silently and watched me as the hand-wringing rose to a crescendo and then slowly died down.

I didn’t figure this out until later, but reaching out to others for reassurance did nothing but create co-dependence and fuel the irrational fire of my anxiety.

If someone said, “don’t be silly,” I’d think, “what do they know?” If someone offered to get on the elevator with me, I couldn’t get on without them the next time.

Relying on others was useless at best, and it weakened me at worst, making me feel incapable of managing even the most mundane details of my life without depending on somebody else.

It was important, in the end, for me to go through my treatment “alone,” so my victory would be 100% mine. So I could know, in perpetuity, like I know now, that I am capable of dealing with anything (even avian flu) on my own merits.

Non-Avoidance – AKA “Facing Your Fears”

The particular school of therapy I followed is founded on the idea that avoiding the things that cause you anxiety confirms your fight or flight response and increases your anxiety levels toward that particular thing.

Another vector of my treatment was making sure I didn’t avoid anxiety-inducing situations when I encountered them naturally, but rather, that I go about my business and engage in these activities if they came across my path.

For example, if my husband and I went out to dinner, I shouldn’t run screaming from the seafood place, or take the stairs to the 14th floor to avoid the elevator.

During my therapy, my best friend got married on the West Coast of Mexico. It presented a great opportunity to put non-avoidance into practice, given my fear of flying.

Being a bridesmaid at her wedding would require my getting on a 9 hour flight from Barcelona to Dallas, and then on a regional jet (read: TINY) from Dallas to Cabo San Lucas.

I gathered my courage, and bought a ticket. And with some tips and tricks from my therapist, I got on the airplane.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to make myself as uncomfortable during the flight as possible. I had to pick an itchy sweater, agonizing shoes, ill-fitting underwear, or anything I could muster up to ensure that I would be uncomfortable throughout the entire flight.

Why? Because anxious minds tend to fixate, and if you give your brain something else to fixate on, it will leave the negative thoughts that trigger your anxiety alone.

I chose to wear a corset. It worked like a charm.

Of the three principles I’ve described, I think this one has served me the most in my post-panic disorder life. I go after what I want, even if I have to go through something uncomfortable to get it. I always ask the question, despite fearing I won’t like the answer.

I try new things, go to new places, put myself out there, without a second thought to my comfort zone.

And I fly. I still occasionally cry while doing it, but it gets me where I need to be – closer to my loved ones. I leave the corset at home now, though.

Acceptance – Your Feelings Won’t Kill You – Even if They’re Unpleasant

Acceptable was the hardest of the three, and it took a long time to get it. It was also the most liberating once I got there, and the single thing I credit for tipping the balance of power in my favor.

Throughout my crisis, I had many fears. But the thing I feared most was never going back to “normal”. Never again having a life where anxiety wasn’t constantly present.

Feeling crappy, always. Everything I did – it was to get rid of my anxiety. All the other exercises, I followed them to the letter so I wouldn’t be anxious anymore.

The thing that really set me free, though, was coming to the realization that even if I NEVER went back to normal – that was ok too. I had a husband and family who loved me.

I lived in Barcelona, for Pete’s sake. Anxiety would be a burden, but it would be a burden I could bear. It could make me feel like crap, but it wasn’t going to kill me and it didn’t have to control me – not if I didn’t let it.

I had to get to this epiphany on my own, but throughout my therapy I was unknowingly going through exercises to drive this point home.

I only remember one of them, and it went something like this: a couple of times a week, I had to find a quiet place and set aside 15 minutes where I wouldn’t be interrupted.

During those 15 minutes I had to think about most frightening things I could conjure, and try as hard as I could to give myself a panic attack.

Week after week I thought long and hard about the worst things I could picture. You name a horrible situation, I thought about it.

I thought about it INTENSELY. The thing is, though, if I kept trying to chase a thought, it would ordinarily get away from me long before the 15 minutes were up.

And without knowing, I’d find myself laying there thinking about sunflowers and puppies, having failed miserably at giving myself that panic attack that was supposed to materialize.

Without my knowing, I was creating a habit of embracing anxiety, on a weekly basis. And by embracing my anxiety, I was undermining the mechanism that allows it to manifest, removing its hold on me permanently – or at least as long as I’m still willing to embrace it.

The Journey Continues – The Aftermath

The physical symptoms of my anxiety didn’t subside immediately after therapy ended. It took a while – months, I think – for me to feel completely normal again. Time passed.

Things happened. I got a high-stress summer internship. I got pregnant. I had a miscarriage. I graduated from my MBA and got a full time job. We moved to London.

I had a son, and nearly died in childbirth. Life kept happening, with all its ups and down, but the panic – the full blown panic I’d experienced – never came back. And even if it did, now I know how to get rid of it.

I’m not going to lie. I still get anxious about things. I can’t remember the last time I had a panic attack, though – it’s probably been years – but I still hate to fly and don’t care much for enclosed spaces.

Still, I get on airplanes and ride in elevators as much as I need to. I eat seafood. And peanuts. I’m not always happy with things, and occasionally I will stress about something and have it twirling around in my head at night, preventing me from going to sleep.

So I go to yoga (it’s been a Godsend), and I play with my son.

Or I go for a good run and drum up some endorphins. And I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been before. I was right about one thing, though, in my dark thoughts in Barcelona.

I never did find my old self again. I found a new me, though, and she is SO MUCH better.

Do you have a story that you want to share with the AG community? If you’re interested in spreading hope and knowledge send Paul an email at info@anxietyguru.net.

AG Suicide Survival Guide

suicide

Have you ever thought about killing yourself? It’s a terrifying thought.

I know because it happened to me in the summer of 2007.

I never developed a plan or any intention of doing it, but for about a week I thought “What if?”

What if I move beyond thoughts and develop a desire to die?

What if I can’t stop myself from thinking like this?

At the time I had no idea where the thoughts came from which caused confusion and filled me with dread.

Even saying the word suicide made be anxious. As if just thinking about it meant that I might actually go through with it.

Looking back I realize that I was anxious and depressed rather than crazy. But imagine going through that experience without understanding that.

And what made everything worse is that I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone.

Eventually, I reached out to my sister, but not before I suffered with severe anxiety and depression for months.

Like most people I waited to reach out because I was embarrassed – even ashamed about what I was going through.

Talking about my problems also made me nervous and avoidant, so I was willing to suck it up and trudge along on my own a lot longer than I should have.

The problem is that in the case of suicide silence can kill. Isolation breeds more depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.

Look what happened to Robin Williams, for example.

Over the past week I’ve heard several people that knew him say things like “I didn’t know he was in pain,” or something along those lines.

But that’s the thing, this problem is a lot more common than most people would like to admit. And people keep this problem to themselves far too often.

Here are some important facts about suicide:

Suicide is no joke

  1. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States
  2. In 2010 over 38,000 people committed suicide
  3. In the same year over 1 million people attempted suicide
  4. Males are more likely to complete the act of suicide
  5. People that commit suicide are often between the ages of 24 and 40

What puts you at risk of suicide?

  1. Family history of suicide
  2. History of child abuse
  3. Previous suicide attempts
  4. Alcohol/Drug abuse
  5. Severe Depression and Anxiety
  6. Hopelessness
  7. Isolation
  8. Significant loss such as a death or divorce
  9. Serious illness

What helps to prevent suicide?

  1. Clinical care (psychiatrist/therapist)
  2. Support of friends and family
  3. Cultural or religious beliefs

What makes it an emergency?

  1. You are experiencing severe anxiety or depression
  2. You are having thoughts of harming yourself
  3. You have a plan to hurt yourself
  4. You have access to means needed to hurt yourself
  5. In case of imminent threat to yourself call 911

If you’re suffering with thoughts of suicide I want you to know that there is help.

In the United States you can call 1-800-273-8255. If you live outside the U.S. please do a quick Google search for “suicide hotline” to reach someone near you.

I was lucky that I had someone there to support me and as a result things didn’t get out of control.

But when it comes to suicide you don’t want to rely on luck. If you need help ask for it.

To learn more listen to this week’s podcast by clicking the icon below.

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