A Personal Challenge From Paul Dooley

anxiety, stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s a good start.

Mental Health: The War at Home

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

Warning: This article contains strong language.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if I was I would never tell anyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also check me out on Facebook.

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.

Conquering Anxiety: My Story

anxiety, panic, stress

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.

Confidence and Self-Esteem for Sufferers of Anxiety

self-esteem, confidence

Today’s guest post is brought to you by former anxiety sufferer Jon Jones. Jon began his struggle with anxiety and depression over 18 years ago. And after years of struggling he’s learned how to overcome these two challenging conditions. — Paul Dooley

Being confident and feeling great about yourself are two qualities that make life deeply satisfying.

You have a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye. People you meet are swayed by your natural charisma and charm.

The good times are better and the bad times not so bad.

You can take any problems life throws at you on the chin and plow forward to reach your goals with optimism and in high spirits.

Socializing becomes enjoyable, and people become attracted to you as you have the confidence and self-esteem to just be your real, genuine, fantastic self.

Being a sufferer of anxiety and panic, these qualities can seem out of your grasp. You feel hopelessness, despair, and maybe even shaky to the core.

Your mind is full of doubts, what will people think of me, will I perform at work, will the economy
recover, and so on.

So the first step in building confidence and self-esteem is learning how to manage your anxiety.

Getting Started

By learning how to deal with yourself in difficult situations that normally cause you to panic or experience anxiety your confidence can begin to grow.

Although you may still be shaky at first and experience anxiety you still managed to get through the situation and make it to the other side.

And this is what you must focus on, the fact that you were able to do it. By learning how to deal with yourself and not the situation you regain control.

By taking action and overcoming your personal battles you will begin to feel good about yourself. You´ll start having good feelings inside you.

Even simple things like walking down the street, going shopping or reading a book will become more enjoyable as you are more relaxed and have a deeper sense of satisfaction.

A Developed Skill

I´m not going to kid you and say that you can instantly develop bullet-proof confidence.

Like anything worthwhile in life you need to work on it. Confidence is grown by repeated practice.

Like a golfer who has learned to perfect his swing by constant practice at the driving range is confident in his abilities, so you too can develop your confidence in dealing with yourself by repetition.

By constantly exposing yourself to situations that normally cause you anxiety the fear dies down.

I´m not saying to grit your teeth and push yourself into anxiety causing situations, but rather to not avoid them. To go into them willingly.

This repeated exposure over time proves to yourself that you can do it. And true confidence can emerge.

But first you need to learn techniques which will allow you to be able to deal with yourself. I used to panic at the thought of different stressful situations.

My confidence was so low and my self-esteem was very weak.

But I no longer cringe at the thought of such things as public speaking, going to social events, or talking to strangers.

And this has all been down to the repeated exposure to situations which I used to dread.

I have built up my confidence of such situations by learning how to deal with myself, and not feed my anxiety.

The techniques that I have used to help me deal with my anxiety are all on this site. I can now do things with a feeling of inner strength.

I no longer doubt myself, but have clarity and purpose.

And it feels great to have this freedom. It has a very enjoyable feeling of lightness to it, as you can make your way in the world with a sense of ease and comfort.

Speak Up

One thing about confidence is that you can´t wait for it. You have to strive for it. Push the boat out.

Don´t wait until you feel confident before doing something, act and the confidence will come.

Although you may feel nervous, take a deep breath, exhale slowly and then speak up.

By doing so you will prove to yourself that you can do it. And will start changing your self-image seeing yourself as a confident person.
You can speak positive to yourself as much as you want, but there is no substitute for action.

You have to firmly decide that you are going to work on being a confident person, and take the necessary steps to becoming so.

So next time you in a anxious situation take a deep breath, let go of yourself, and grasp the nettle, and speak up. Then you will see that you can do it.

That the anxiety you were feeling was false, you were able to do it. And the sense of satisfaction you will feel will be amazing. You will feel fantastic.

There´s nothing better than proving to yourself that you can do things.

Keeping a Journal

A great aid in facilitating this is keeping a journal. In your journal you can write your thoughts for the day.

The moments you felt anxious and what you did to deal with yourself.

You can write down how you felt before you entered a difficult situation, the symptoms you had and the thoughts you felt.

And then you can write about how by dealing with yourself and not the situation you were able to successfully cope with yourself.

By building up positive memories of instances when you coped with yourself and got through situations which seemed very difficult at the time, then you are building true inner confidence and self-esteem.

And next time you enter a difficult moment you can recall these times. This will give you confidence, because if you have done it before, and you now have proof that you can do it again.

It is as if you have a personal cheer-leader standing beside you rooting for you, ¨saying you can do it!¨

And the beautiful thing is you can, because you already have done it many times before.

By constantly exposing yourself to different situations, writing down your successes and reminding yourself of how you were able to deal with yourself before then that little voice which once whispered ¨you can do it,¨ now starts to shout it out loud.

Feelings and thoughts of confidence become second nature, and come to you automatically. And you truly become a confident person with true self-esteem.

And the great things is the more you do this, the more reference points of success you build up the more your confidence and self-esteem will grow. It will snow ball.

So start today, by next week you´ll be more confident and feeling better. And this will continue next month, next year and well into the future. Because these personal achievements happened.

You faced what you thought were difficult moments, dealt with yourself, and proved to yourself that you could do it. So just imagine what other great things you can achieve!

List Positive Things About Yourself

Putting things on paper is a very powerful thing. The mere act of seeing your thoughts on paper and reading it has the effect of ingraining it further into your mind.

So make a list of your achievements, positive attributes, compliments and past praises that people have given you.

This also provides you with evidence to enable your confidence and self-esteem to grow and flourish. These things you have on your list are facts.

They happened and you did them! So when you are feeling low in confidence or self-esteem you can prove these feelings wrong.

When you have a thought of ¨I´m a loser¨ or something similar, you can think of your list and that time you had your boss congratulate you at work, or when you cooked an amazing meal and your dinner guests asked for seconds.

By getting into the habit of thinking of a positive thought when you think of a negative thought then you can make yourself more positive, because you can pick your moral up immediately by flipping it around.

Work On It

Being a confident and high self-esteem person is something you have to work on. It´s like gardening.

You need to start planting some beautiful thoughts in your mind. If not then negative weeds will grow.

Make it part of your routine to devote ten or fifteen minutes a day to work on your confidence and self-esteem.

You can read over your journal, and your lists mentioned above.

Also in quiet moments such as traveling to work, or waiting in line at the supermarket remind yourself of your positive points and achievements.

Doing so will develop a habit of positive thinking in your mind, until it become second nature to you. But you need to constantly work on it. If not weeds will grow.

So, by doing the different tips I have mentioned true confidence and self-esteem can emerge.

No longer would you be feeling inferior or timid. You will be able to walk tall, have an inner smile, and truly connect with people you meet.

A new sense of being will come into your life! Life is fantastic. And by developing true confidence and self-esteem you will also feel fantastic!

To learn more about how you can deal with anxiety and panic you can download my free eBook here.

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.

5 Years of Failed Blogging?

Sad Anniversary Can you believe it? I’ve been blogging for 5 years. I guess the old saying about time moving faster as you age is true. I can remember writing my first blog post in 2008 like it was yesterday.

To be honest I have mixed emotions about this blog now. At first I wanted to create something remarkable. I wanted to create an important anti-anxiety resource. I ended up with something very different.

For years I wrote blog posts and produced podcasts hoping that Anxietyguru.net would grow and evolve and you know what? It didn’t. I tried recruiting people to write, changing the design, asking for feedback, writing different types of posts but, it didn’t seem to matter.

Don’t get me wrong. This blog has grown. I’ve gone from 200 daily visitors to about 3,000. That sounds good I guess, yet in the world of websites that’s tiny. Worst of all I don’t know why. I don’t know what I did wrong.

Part of me wants to believe that this has happened because anxiety is transient. People are only interested in seeking tips when they are in crisis or semi-crisis. Anxious people, it seems, are more into internet surfing. They collect small bits of information from a lot of different places and build whatever they need from those small parts.

Sadly, that makes it less likely that AG will ever grow into a strong community. It can’t be the only reason this blog hasn’t developed more, but it’s certainly a big part of it. And that sucks because I’m not quite sure what to do now. I have failed. I feel defeated in my efforts to create something remarkable. At least that’s how I feel.

It’s hard to accept that something you’ve worked on for so long is futile. It’s downright depressing really. I guess in the end there’s only so much one person can do. Unlike a lot of successful websites AG has no staff, no budget, no nothing. Reality check I guess.

All that said, I still enjoy answering emails, helping people when I can, and receiving a kind message or two. That has never changed. So although AG isn’t what I hoped it would be, it still brings me satisfaction to know that I’ve brought comfort to some of you over the years.

Thank you.

Is Your Diet Causing Anxiety?

Today’s guest post by Juliana Weiss-Roessler of Weight Loss Triumph.

Last year, researchers found evidence that the kind of bacteria we have in our gut actually influences our brain chemistry and how we act. And what determines the types of bacteria that reside in our stomach and gastrointestinal tract? Food.

Translation: psychologically speaking, we are what we eat.

For years we’ve been aware of some kind of association between anxiety and things like irritable bowel syndrome, but now we know there’s a microbial component that may be involved in any number of mood disorders.

The harmful bacteria that can lead to these problems isn’t necessarily created by the things that we eat, but certain types of foods help it to thrive and overpower the bacteria that keeps us healthy and on an even keel.
So, how can you maintain a balanced level of good and bad bacteria? What should you eat and avoid? The answers are more straight-forward than you might imagine.

Foods to avoid

Refined sugars and starches. If you only cut one item out of your diet, make it refined sugar. Harmful bacteria are powered by sugar the way Popeye gets his strength from spinach. Get rid of sugar and greatly reduce the amount of starch in your diet and you’ll be metaphorically cutting the bacteria’s legs out from under it.

Fried foods. It’s not going to be easy, but say goodbye to those French fries and chicken fingers that you love. Not only do they have ridiculously little nutritional value, fried foods are hard for your body to digest, typically have too many omega-6 fats and trans fats because of the oils they’re cooked in, and they play a large role in the heart problems of many people. Basically, your body doesn’t process them very well.

Foods that cause acid to form.
What’s wrong with acid? Experts believe that it’s related to the level of magnesium in our bodies, and that magnesium at least contributes (if it doesn’t outright cause) anxiety in many people. Try not to eat too much of foods like liver, sour cream, eggs, pickles, or yogurt, or drink wine excessively. And while we’re on the subject of wine…

Alcohol. Everyone knows that drinking does nothing good for us nutritionally and a whole lot of bad, but still we partake because of the feeling it brings – even if that’s usually incredibly short-lived. Well, now there’s yet another reason to avoid alcohol, because it actually has the ability to cause you to suffer physical symptoms from the toxins in your body that help trigger attacks of anxiety.

Dairy. While dairy products aren’t bad for you in and of themselves, an excess of them can put you in a more anxious state by raising your levels of adrenaline. Take care that you eat and drink dairy in moderation and you should be fine.

Coffee. Drink too much coffee and you’re likely to experience an increase in your heart rate, as well as several of the other sensations that are known to create panic attacks. Obviously coffee doesn’t cause most people to experience anxiety or it wouldn’t be as popular as it is, but it is known to be an anxiety stimulant when taken to excess.

Foods to seek out

Traditional fats. While no one would call them “good” for you, natural fats like lard, coconut oil, and butter are far better than using processed oils in your cooking. Omega-3 fats. In recent years there’s been more and more talk about good fats and bad fats – well, omega-3s, generally speaking, are the good guys. Find them in things like grass-fed animals, wild fish, and more.

Protein for breakfast. Lean protein is pretty much always a positive thing, and if you eat it as part of your breakfast, it will help to keep you energized. Fermented foods. By making a food with natural fermentation, you create good bacteria that can help re-balance what’s in your gut. Pickles, chutneys, buttermilk, and even yogurt and sour cream can be great as long as they ferment naturally. Just be sure to eat dairy products in moderation.

Complex carbohydrates. When you do eat starchy foods, go for whole grains and eschew simple carbohydrates. Not only is this better for your gut, complex carbs are believed to release calming serotonin, which can help to relieve anxiety.

Soups and stocks. Really want to help your intestinal lining to heal improve digestion? Use animal bones and cartilage to create homemade stocks.

Obviously, worrying about how to get and prepare the right foods is something else that can add to your stress, but you can relieve that by using a home delivery diet plan that allows you to clearly define the foods you want.

AG Members Launches in 10 Days

anxiety treatment

Last year I was sitting at home thinking about how I could deliver exclusive content to people who are serious about getting better.

What I came up with was a private website packed with rock solid information.

And finally, after months of work, my members only website is ready to launch.

In the members only area you’ll find new podcasts, videos, articles, and a brand new forum. You can take a tour of the new site here.

Why is the new website private?

Many people with anxiety problems are reluctant to talk about their issues in public. This could be because of work, school, family; the list of reasons for wanting anonymity is long. So a member’s only website is the perfect solution.

Not only will there be privacy, peer support, and new content, but members will also get free access to both of my eBooks, How to Stop Anxious Thinking and The Big Idea. I’m really opening the doors on this one. I’m even starting a brand new personal coaching service that will only be available to members for the time being.

To see a sample video from my new site click here

I think the combination of great information, privacy, and peer support is a powerful blend that will help people learn helpful information in a safe environment. It creates a space where you can work on your goals without feeling isolated or misunderstood.

Do you want a FREE membership pass?

If you’re interested in a free membership pass then head to the comments section below and tell me how you would contribute to the new community at AG Members. Would you be an active member willing to reach out to others?

I’ll select 5 winning comments and award those people with a free membership pass. The winners will be announced on February 7, 2013.

I’d like to start off with a group of people willing to do more than just consume information. I’m looking for folks who want to take an active role in their recovery.

But if you don’t get a free pass don’t worry, all members of the Anxietyguru.net newsletter will receive something special in their inbox next week. So if you’re not already signed up, right now would be an excellent time!



Watch Paul Drive Across a 200 ft Tall Bridge

I don’t produce videos because I’m wary of making myself vulnerable.

Yet, I realize that if I put myself out there more, I have a greater chance of helping people. So today I’m releasing my first video, ever. I wanted to do something different in preparation for the launch of my new membership website.

In this video, I cross over the 200 ft tall Coronado bridge in San Diego to prove – mostly to myself – that I’ve done away with my old fear of heights. It’s nothing fancy, but I hope it encourages someone watching that overcoming their fears is a real possibility and not just something you hope for.

To watch the video click here.

Have you ever overcome a powerful fear? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

Note: Please excuse the shaky camera work. =)