Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Anxiety tips from an anxious therapist: Ones you might not have heard

What’s better than anxiety tips from a therapist? Maybe anxiety tips from an anxious therapist. I don’t self-disclose often in practice. I try to stay focused on my clients’ emotions and experiences. But since it’s my blog, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s important to breakdown stigma, I’m sharing that I am an otherwise healthy, reasonably well-adjusted professional woman who deals with anxiety. Because of this truth, I want to offer more than just the typical management strategies we’ve heard. I want to offer things I actually use when I’m struggling.

Breathe out

Most of us have heard of the importance of breathing to reduce anxiety. But often without realizing it, how we breathe adds to anxiety. When you’re stressed the first instinct is to hold your breath. So, if you’re already holding your breath and then you try to inhale more it actually contributes to an uncomfortable, constricted feeling in your chest and throat, making you feel like you’re choking. Therefore, when you feel anxious blow everything out first, pause a moment, and then inhale a long, slow breath.

Hold heart and center

After starting proper breathwork, another thing that helps me feel centered is to place one hand over my heart and the other over my belly. I don’t recall if I picked this up from a yoga class or if I just intuitively did this hand placement one day, but it helps. You can do it seated or standing. For me, it evokes a sense of being connected. When a wave of intense anxiety strikes, it feels like a force threatening to drown me. But when I touch my heart and center it’s my way of feeling secure and reminding myself that I’m here, I’m grounded, and I’m okay whether I feel that way or not.

Rock side to side

The third tip might sound strange, but go with it. You know how babies like to be rocked? Well, so do adults. When we’re afraid we are vulnerable like children. It only makes sense that when in that regressed state we soothe the way we used to be soothed as youngsters. Next time you feel anxious just rock your body from side to side. See if it doesn’t have a calming effect.

Eat light

All this breathing, holding, and rocking are ways to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. Worry thoughts alone are relatively simple to handle in my opinion; you can just identify how irrational they are. But once you feel bodily sensations, it can seem like you’re actually ill, dying, or in danger. And since our emotional state is highly correlated with our gut function, stomach issues often accompany stress and anxiety. Therefore, to minimize gastrointestinal distress I eat smaller, lighter meals on high anxiety days so I don’t freak myself out more because of nausea, bloating, or stomach upset. Get the nutrients you need, of course. Just pick foods that are easier to digest.

Take your time

A final practice I use to deal with high anxiety times is to simply slow down. I’m conscientious by nature. I arrive places on time. I respond messages promptly. To me, it’s a sign of respect. The downside, however, is that I can make myself sick trying to reach arbitrary timelines. And in an era when social media, direct messages, and texts make everyone accessible 24/7, there’s often a sense of urgency to reply immediately when it’s really
not necessary. So, when I feel under the gun I’ve intentionally started taking my time. I physically move slower, drive slower, breathe slower. I’ll wait until the end of the day or even the next day to open emails or messages if I’m not prepared to respond right away. I’ll take time to have a snack or use the restroom or just sit for a moment, even if it means running few minutes late. It’s truly done wonders. I still respect time and try my best to stay on schedule. But if it’s between peace and punctuality, I choose peace.

Like I said in the beginning, I share all this because I get it. I really do. Anxiety is a formidable foe and one I’ve battled in some variation my entire life. Numbered tips and gimmicky formulas sell, but cannot guarantee 100% freedom from fear. Besides, what works for one person does not necessarily work for everyone. I simply submit the things that have helped me more often than not. I believe there will be a time when we won’t be afraid. Until that day, stay in the fight and find what helps you overcome.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mindful tracking for depression

You ever find yourself in a funk? Like one of those truly insidious moods that sneak up on you. It allows you to function and even appear “normal” for months, maybe even years on end. Meanwhile, in the background there’s a persistent sadness, irritability, or anxiety that lingers like a low grade fever. This feeling is often what brings people into counseling. They don’t quite feel like themselves. They know they’re not as happy as they used to be, but aren’t sure why.

Truthfully, most of us have felt this before…when you’re overwhelmed by the blahs and beside yourself. Are you clinically depressed, you wonder? Burned out? Absorbing other people’s emotions? Why is this uncomfortable feeling like a familiar companion that has overstayed its welcome? Sometimes the unknown makes things worse. You feel like you’re going crazy because you can’t pinpoint why you’re hurting. This is where mindfulness comes in- mindful tracking to be exact.

Next time you notice a persistent feeling of unrest do a lifeline. This is an exercise where you track significant life events over a designated time period. It could be your entire life or just the last 5-10 years. You pick the duration. But on a lifeline, you draw an actual line on a piece of paper, like a ruler, and indicate major life transitions, losses, relationship changes, perhaps traumas. Basically, you indicate anything that you deem developmentally significant. In doing so, you will more than likely see a pattern or theme emerge. Perhaps you’ve had a lot of deaths or relational losses. Maybe you had back to back health issues or educational challenges. It could just be a lot of normal life transitions that you didn’t quite adapt to or cope with effectively. Whatever it is, a lifeline will afford you the opportunity of increased insight. It will help you make sense of your emotional experience and perhaps lend wisdom for how to handle your mood state.

No one likes to feel abnormal. No one wants to feel down and unwell all the time. Even if you are functioning, often you intuitively know things could be better. If you feel this way, I definitely encourage reaching out for counseling support. Additionally, take some time to explore the last season of your life. Maybe just seeing in line graph form how much you’ve been through can normalize the struggle. It can also help you have compassion on yourself as you heal. So, give it a try and let me know what you find. I’d love to hear what you discovered and learned about yourself with a little mindfulness.