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!

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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.

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Audio Only

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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!

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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.

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

social anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing a strong social support system has some clear benefits.

Here are a few:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to this week’s podcast and comment below!

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3 Eye-Opening Insights About Meditation and Mindfulness

meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AG Suicide Survival Guide

suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look what happened to Robin Williams, for example.

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

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

Here are some important facts about suicide:

Suicide is no joke

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

What puts you at risk of suicide?

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

What helps to prevent suicide?

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

What makes it an emergency?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget to share this post and comment below!

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You Know Everything About Anxiety, So Why Are You Still Anxious?

anxiety

In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” – Bertrand Russell

You know more about anxiety than 99.9% of the population. Yet, here you are.

The question is why? Why isn’t all your fancy-pants information helping you?

Well it’s not because you’re dumb. I was in your shoes for over 10 years and I consider myself relatively smart.

I was good at filling my head with facts but that’s about it. I had a really hard time moving past this phase.

But you know what? So do a lot of other people. For example, I’d say that most people that I work with struggle with this problem.

The reason this happens isn’t a mystery though. It’s due to something called the backfire effect.

People that work in the mental health field call it confirmation bias, but I’m sticking with backfire effect because it sounds cooler.

Simply put, it means that people tend to favor information that supports their beliefs; especially in the face of contradictory evidence.

In fact, beliefs not only stay the same when challenged, they tend to get even stronger.

For example, say that you started having problems with your balance. Chances are you’d jump on the web and search “balance problems” and come back with a thousand hits.

Next, you’d run into several other related symptoms and before you know it you’d start building a rock solid case in favor of MS or some other disease.

When you experience those same symptoms in the future you’d selectively recall biased information (usually all bad) that supported your twisted views about anxiety.

But hang on, it gets worse.

You then misinterpret all incoming information with “I’m already sick” lenses on, which increases anxiety and reinforces the belief that your specific symptoms are related to a real illness rather than stress.

In short, the backfire effect creates biased searches for information, biased interpretations of that information and creates biased memories.

So when you do come across “good information” you disregard it because it doesn’t line up with your beliefs about anxiety.

Basically, you double down.

The crazy thing is that even if you know that you’re doing this, it won’t stop it from happening. It’s a paradox.

Eventually, I stopped falling victim to this backfire business but it wasn’t easy.

Why this happens

One of the reasons people get stuck on bad information is because they favor “early information” and give it more importance than information gathered later.

So if someone told you that your neighbor was a real weirdo you’d develop an ugly (biased) picture in your head about that person.

A picture that would probably be hard to shake even after you met them.

Biased interpretation offers an explanation for this effect: seeing the initial evidence, people form a working hypothesis that affects how they interpret the rest of the information.” Raymond S. Nickerson

Now, you would still form your own ideas about your neighbor, but he would have to work a little harder to prove that he isn’t weird.

The backfire effect is also strengthened by negative moods like anxiety.

So, the more anxious you are, the harder it is to challenge your tainted beliefs about anxiety.

How do you stop this from happening?

1. Stay Curious. When people encounter information that supports their suspicions, they become certain about things they don’t truly understand.

Staying curious about what’s going on leaves the door to new, probably more helpful information, wide open.

2. Present a counterargument. What would happen if you had to put anxiety on the stand and cross examine it?

I bet nothing but good things. I encourage you to write out a counterargument against your anxiety.

Use all the counter evidence you can find and write a narrative designed to persuade others that your anxiety is harmless.

3. Suspend judgment. Stay neutral and open whenever you investigate whether or not something is harmful to you.

4. Accept the gray areas. One of the biggest reasons why people stay stuck in anxiety is because they are desperately seeking certainty where there is none.

Instead, learn how to tolerate ambiguity. This is a powerful tool.

In this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I discuss how you can increase your tolerance of the unknown and how to use this skill to decrease anxiety. Check it out and comment below.

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This Is How a Solid Anti-Anxiety Plan Will Change Your Life

goals, anxiety treatment

Want to know the secret to recovering from abnormal anxiety?

It’s obvious right?

It’s so obvious that you’ve completely ignored it.

The secret is having a solid plan for recovery.

It doesn’t matter if you experience high anxiety twice a month or twice a day, if you don’t create a plan nothing will ever change.

You might get a break every now and then but as soon as life gets stupid you can easily find yourself in a state of anxious misery.

You probably hope that your emergency internet research will suffice but how far has that gotten you?

People usually have a hard time recovering from abnormal anxiety because they have become conditioned by fear.

This causes people to respond to anxiety, physical symptoms, and worry in a shockingly ineffective and limited way.

This is why developing a recovery plan is so important. It brings reason back into the picture.

Let’s be honest, right now a lot of the stuff you do is irrational.

You’re probably just doing a bunch of random learning, reassurance seeking and cycling between semi-calm and utter panic.

It’s time for change. The problem of course is that change is hard.

Change also happens in stages that have nothing to do with squeezing your eyes tight and hoping for the best.

It has more to do with creating a clear plan of recovery and sticking to it.

So how do you make a good plan of recovery? What are the steps?

In today’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I’ll tell you exactly what they are.

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