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

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

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.