Truth Joy Beauty

Just my thoughts and reflections about living and loving in the post-post modern age.

Archive for the category “Anxiety”

If you want something to change

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When working with persons who are struggling with any mental health or emotional issue, it is interesting to note how attached people become to the behaviours, beliefs and/or relationships that are the main cause of their difficulties and the reason for their appearance in the consulting room.

This is not surprising, in psychology, defensive behaviours such as addiction, depression, anxiety and related safety behaviours become so entrenched because at one time, for all intents  and purposes, these behaviours worked to relieve some psychological pressure that was unmanageable to the person at the time.

I still find it challenging when a client shows resistance to any suggestion that they change something they are doing in order to work towards their stated therapeutic goal, whatever that goal might be. Often, even after going through workability (what have you done so far, how has it worked for you, what has it cost you?) I find that clients are still reluctant to alter damaging behaviours even at the cost of health, valued relationships, money, time, goals etc.

They cling to their behaviours like a child might cling to a parent, even when that parent may also be the cause of suffering and pain.

Attachments can form in the most unlikely circumstances, such is our desire for connection and love. We will often put up with a lot of discontent in order to maintain the most tenuous connection to those, or that which we are attached to.

So the anguish this conundrum causes people is palpable and sometimes heartbreaking to watch.  But reality has a way of exerting itself in a variety of ways, and eventually the breakthrough realisation is as simple as knowing that, in the most fundamental way action needs to happen in order for change to occur. In other words, if you want something to change, you need to change something, no matter how small.

 

 

7 simple ways to change your mind…mindfully!

The news is out!  We are not victims of circumstance or biology. No matter what your past history entails, the good news is change is possible. Our brains are flexible and wired for change and adaptability.

Here are seven ways that you can change your mind, and life, for the better with the help of mindfulness practices.

1. Live mindfully

…that is, consciously, with awareness and conscious choice. Living mindfully means bringing conscious awareness to everything you do. It doesn’t mean you have to spend hours a day meditating but even a few moments of pausing, breathing and noticing what you are experiencing without overthinking can help improve mood and manage daily stress.

2. Relate to experience directly

Try using your senses rather than through thinking, analyzing or judging all of the time. Take a moment to stop, notice and check in with your self. A simple mindfulness exercise is the 5×5 pause. Going through your five senses and noticing the first 5 things you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. (Taste is sometimes a difficult one, unless you are seated at a sushi train…yum!) However, by the time you get to taste, you will have mindfully checked in with yourself.

3. Stay in the present

Resist the urge to dwell on past events or worry about future “what ifs”. Staying present involves noticing and accepting your day to day, moment to moment experience as real and valuable. Whenever you find yourself time travelling in your mind try a simple 5×5 meditation or simply stop and notice your breathing for a few moments, to bring you back to now.

4. Avoid avoiding all unpleasant feelings at any cost

Try to welcome all feelings and emotions as temporary messengers who have something to tell you. Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are and they do pass. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating our truest needs, desires and wants. We don’t have to follow our emotions or do what they tell us to every time, however, acknowledging your feelings is the first step towards honoring our truth. Knowledge is power after all.

5. Accept things as they now are and go from there

Instead of how you would like them to be. Don’t waste energy or time on struggling with discontent. The more you struggle with feelings of frustration, unfairness and anger regarding those things that you cannot change, the less energy you have to put into changing those things you can.

6. Learn to see your thoughts as just thoughts, not facts or reality

Some thoughts are factual, some may have elements of truth and some may be completely incorrect – learn to choose which thoughts are most helpful to you rather than focusing on whether they are true or real. Focusing on thoughts gives them undue power – choose your thoughts wisely.

7. Practice self-compassion daily.

Be kind to yourself. Learn and practice how to be your own best friend and treat yourself with the kindness, compassion and respect you really want. Watch what you say, do and how you treat you. If you find yourself saying, doing or treating yourself in a way that you would never treat a friend then that is a sign that you need to be more loving to you.

Meditation on flying

 

Caught a plane to Melbourne yesterday morning. I was allocated a window seat, first time in a long time that I have. I also had the entire row to myself which was unusual considering the plane was otherwise full. Not that I’m complaining.
It was a beautiful, blue and sunny Sydney morning, so I took the opportunity to not read, or look at my device but to just sit and enjoy the view and the experience. I augmented my experience with music by way of what I had on my phone, which was also an unfamiliar experience for me. I rarely wear headphones around, I’d rather hear what is going on around me, most of the time. But for this flight, I thought it might be a nice change.
As I looked out of the small window, my view was restricted by the wing. Not that I’m complaining about that either, I am really glad that it’s there but my mind did go to some future place in which planes were designed to be mostly glass – that way you’d really feel like you were flying among the clouds. But that hasn’t happened yet. As such, I had a small window framing my view and that would have to do.
As the plane gathered speed, about to take off, I marvelled at this feat of human engineering. This pinnacle of human achievement. What was once thought of as impossible was now an everyday occurrence, something we mostly took for granted, like so many of our current technological advances. I use that word with some hesitation, however, I cannot think of a better one for now. But, I think it prudent to sometimes pause and reflect on that which we take for granted lest it get away from us, or overcome us somehow…
The plane gathered speed and soon it lurched forward and the ground was no longer supporting me. A weird, unnatural feeling which gave me a sudden feeling of anxiety. This is not natural. Humans were not meant to fly! I am literally putting my life in the hands of a stranger. How do I know he isn’t throwing back tequila shots in the cockpit? Suddenly the whole idea of leaping into the sky in what pretty much amounted to a tin can with wings seemed completely preposterous. The definition of madness! I felt my amygdala ignite and my brain flood with chemicals which signalled ‘danger, danger’ to the rest of my body. My heart started beating faster and my breath felt short and strained. Was it too late to turn back?
Then, I was overtaken by the sight of a fluffy white cloud which seemed in hands reach – if I were able to open the window, and by how solid the clouds all seemed, I almost expected to see an angel or two, lazily plucking at a harp string. The sky beyond the clouds was blue and the ground had pulled away from us enough so that you could see the curve of the earth on the horizon. Another reminder to me that my existence is depended on the vehicle in which I am travelling. Be that a tin can catapulted by jet fuel, or a big round rock obiting a sun, which is itself moving through space. Or the body that houses my consciousness.
Nothing is that stable, or that permanent. If this was my last day on earth then I was grateful for the time I had been alotted. Beauty comes at a price, truth depends on your perspective and joy is a choice you make every day. Yesterday I chose joy, and gratitude, and hope.

Trusting the “process”

A while ago now I wrote a post about the shitty shower-head in my apartment and the meaning of my resistance to getting a new one. (You can read it the whole post here if you like.) For those that can’t be bothered, the basic moral of the story was about acceptance. I hated my shitty apartment and was so focused on the future that I was choosing to live with a shitty shower-head in the present that dribbled out water rather that accept my current situation for what it was. Crazy, huh? Hmmm, well we’re all a little crazy, especially therapists! But, it’s recognizing the ways in which our own unique brand of craziness manifests that makes us wiser as we go. We are all trying our best and learning as we go.

Thing is, some lessons are harder to absorb than others. For me, it’s my own special brand of silly ‘futurizing’ anxiety which drives me around the twist at times, if I let it. It’s a constant effort of vigilant, compassionate self-awareness which keeps my anxiety at bay. If there is one thing I have learnt about anxiety, both from observing my clients’ and my own is that is not something you can ever really ‘beat’. It’s something you make peace with, shake hands with so to speak and learn to live with.

I came face to face with my futurizing anxiety today by way of a HB pencil. Yes, a pencil. One of those refillable ones that you put the leads into. When I picked it up I realized that it only had one lead left in it. That made me anxious. Here is a running dialogue of what went on in my mind for the next few minutes: What if I run out of lead while I’m using it? Should I go and see if I can find some spare leads to refill it now before I start? What if I don’t have the right ones? Should I go find another pencil instead of this one? And so on. Exhausting isn’t it? I was worried about the future instead of focusing on the present task which was to simply write down a few notes. It was in the noticing of my anxiety around a silly pencil that gave me the clue that my anxiety was manifesting itself again. It was the same brand of anxiety that manifested itself when I refused to get a new shower-head. So what did I do, I simply repeated my mantra – Trust the process. Instantly I felt calmer, took a deep breath and wrote with the pencil with only one lead. If and when the lead runs out, I will deal with the situation when it arises.

I know this is a overly simple, silly example, beyond silly really but it does illustrate my point. Anxiety starts with the small things, it’s when you let it continue without interruption or give it your full, uncritical attention that it can get out of hand.

Then I thought to myself, why does the phrase “trust the process” work for me? I’m not sure about that but it really does. (I suggest that if you are suffering from some kind of anxiety that you find your own phrase that works for you.) I think it’s because it short circuits the route that your brain has been so used to taking (probably straight to the amygdala, where your emotional responses come from) and re-directs to the neo-cortex area of your brain (your rational, thinking, processing mind). However I think the phrase, trust the process might be a good all-round one to have on stand-by whenever you find your anxious mind trying to take over.

Why that phrase in particular? I think it’s largely to do with the word ‘trust’. Trust is a safe word, and whatever it is you put your trust in can be the right circuit breaker for you. For example, if you are religious, you could substitute the word “Jesus” or “God” for process. As in “Trust in Jesus”. Just as an example. Or you might be humanist and then you would put the word “self” in a sentence, as in “Trust yourself” or “I trust me”.

Whatever your phrase, try it yourself and see. Oh, and remember to ‘trust the process’.

🙂

Yoga for stress reduction & anxiety

Yoga is one of those things I’ve dabbled in on and off since I can remember. It is something I do for a while, and while I’m doing it I love and really enjoy the benefits of, but then for some reason or another I just stop. And then, after a while I start to feel crap again, disconnected with myself, tense etc and then I remember…oh yeah! Maybe I should do a yoga class.

Since I’ve discovered the benefits of mindfulness practice, this has bought a whole new dimension to my understanding and appreciation of yoga. There is really no better way to connect the mind with the body than to connect the breath with movement. Yoga really is mindfulness in action.

So, having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to find this infographic appear in my inbox this morning from the wonderful people at Happify.  It’s an infographic of 7 yoga inspired breathing exercises and poses to instantly destress any time of the day. And you don’t have to be a yogi to do any of the poses, as they are very simple. This is something I am definitely going to be sharing with my anxiety clients so I just wanted to share it here with you’all.

Here you are:

7 yoga poses for stress reductionOh.. and if you want to get into yoga again in the comfort of your own home none the less, I really recommend Yoga with Adrienne’s YouTube channel. She has heaps of yoga videos for whatever mood you happen to be in, and if you really want kick start your yoga journey, I highly recommend taking her 30 days of yoga challenge.

Namaste y’all for now!

Why your unconscious brain hates you.

Ever wondered why it’s so gawd dang hard to change?

To quit smoking,  to start that gym routine, to stick to that healthy eating plan, to just say no to drugs, alcohol and/or sex? (All three perhaps.) The answer is simple: Your unconscious brain hates you.

Well, maybe hate’s a strong word. But if you had a friend that constantly ignored you, wouldn’t you start to hate them a little bit too? Well it pays to know your enemy so here are a few bits of information I’ve found out about the unconscious that may be of interest.

Your unconscious brain’s main two concerns are to protect you and keep you alive and to give you more of what feels good. It doesn’t care how those ends are achieved, only that are accomplished. This may seem contradictory when you are trying to change negative patterns in your life as all the changes you want to make are good for you, and some of the things you want to stop doing are clearly bad for you.

Take smoking as an example. Everyone knows that smoking can kill you in the end, but as far as the unconscious is concerned, the danger is not imminent. The other thing that makes it so hard to drop all those unwanted bad habits and behaviours, the one thing they all have in common, is that they offer the unconscious brain instant rewards. Short cuts to feeling better, well worn paths that have been etched from years of use exactly because they are a short-cut to some desired end. Why take a longer route when that short-cut is so temptingly efficient… And your unconscious brain is nothing if not efficient.

In neurology there is a saying, neurons that fire together, wire together. The more you repeat something, the more adept your brain will become at executing that function.  If something has worked to date, and by ‘worked’ I mean in the most primitive sense, then your unconscious brain, also known as your ‘reptilian’ brain co-incidentally, will see no good reason to change.

Scientists surmise that our unconscious brain is responsible for 90 – 95% of what we do, our conscious brain – what we think, reason and supposedly make rational decisions with, accounts for only about  5 – 7%. So guess what, if you want to change something, then forget trying to talk yourself into it, forget reasoning with yourself, will power, forget all that. You have to get your unconscious on side and working for you, instead of against you. And you can only do that by learning to pay attention to what your unconscious is trying to tell you.

Freud, great grand-daddy of psychology likened the unconscious to an ice-berg. What we can see (our conscious mind) is only the top. The bulk of the iceberg lays beneath the surface.

Ice berg image metaphor courtesy of Mind Talk.

According to NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) and attachment theory, the unconscious brain has some funny ‘quirks’ and these could be responsible for some of the reasons why you find it so hard to make those changes you say you want. (For more on attachment theory see this previous post).

Some weird things you may not have known about your unconscious brain:

  1. The unconscious brain is kind of lazy. O.k. lazy is a bit harsh however, its motto is: If it ain’t really that broke, why fix it? It’s quite happy for you to get by on ‘good enough’ because as far as it’s concerned if it’s worked for you until now, what’s the big deal?
  2. The unconscious brain is super-protective. It’s main aim is to keep you alive and safe, so that’s why it perceives any negative emotion, trauma or stress as a danger – which is what is behind many anxiety issues. Thing is, your unconscious brain doesn’t know whether the danger is real or imagined and it doesn’t care. All it understands is, danger, danger! Like the robot from Lost in Space. (I am so showing my age right now!) So it re-directs your energy away from unnecessary processes, such as ‘thinking’ and puts it into what it perceives as more important; blood flow to your heart, limbs and lungs so you can make haste. Cue: Stress and anxiety!
  3. The unconscious brain is not reasonable, it is 100% pure emotion. It thinks in symbols and its language is the stuff of dreams. All non-verbal communication is handled by your unconscious brain, and according to body language experts about 80% of all communication between humans is non-verbal.
  4. The unconscious brain does not understand negatives, which may sound like a positive thing but if you say, for example – I don’t want to be poor, all it will understand is ‘poor’.
  5. The unconscious brain will believe whatever you tell it. Literally. So be careful how you speak to yourself. CBT spends a lot of time talking about ‘automatic thoughts’ and ‘core beliefs’. Narrative Therapy talks about ‘meta narratives’. The messages, beliefs, unquestioned and accepted things we tell ourselves that are, for the most part pretty negative. When you stop and take a moment to actually listen to the things you say to yourself, well…no wonder you’re reading this blog right now!
  6. The unconscious brain is like a seven year old child. It just wants more good feelings, and less bad. Kind of what Freud called, “the pleasure principle”. It doesn’t understand that sometimes, you have to experience a little discomfort in order to achieve a greater goal. It will try to stop you from doing things like, working out, going to a new class, or making that dreaded telephone call because in the interim there will be some pain involved. And pain, all pain, is bad.

These are just of the unconscious brain’s quirks that make it such a mysterious ol thing. Bless its cotton socks!

However you shouldn’t go dissing your unconscious side too much as it really does do a lot for you. Is your heart beating right now? Good. Well, it’s not like you have to wake up each morning and ‘kick start your heart’ now is it? (Even if the members of Motley Crue might do.) It’s not as if you have to remember to ‘set your heart alarm’ each night before you go to bed. No. Your unconscious mind looks after all of that. Your breathing, sight, digestion, all of that. Imagine how exhausting it would be if you had to tell your body what to do to digest food. You’d get nothing much else done!

Another thing your unconscious looks after is memory. It stores every single memory you’ve ever had and organizes those memories for you. You can only really think of about 5 – 7 things at any one time. You might not remember the name of your third grade teacher off the top of your head, but your unconscious does. It remembers everything. IN DETAIL. Your unconscious also decides what memories are too traumatic for you to deal with and suppresses those until it decides you are ready for them. Yes, your unconscious is one mean, lean, ripped, pretty powerful entity so… it might not be a bad idea to be on good terms with it now would it

So, if you are struggling to change something in your life, maybe it’s time you had a talk with you and asked yourself, well your unconscious side of yourself… So, what’s it gonna take for us to get along. Huh? How can we work on things together so that we are both happy?

Well, I’ve give you some answers to those questions soon. Promise!

Sources / Further reading:

http://www.simplypsychology.org/unconscious-mind.html
http://www.mindtalk.co.za/unconscious_mind.html
http://www.nlpacademy.co.uk/articles/view/understanding_your_mind_conscious_and_unconscious_processing/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/focus-forgiveness/201307/conscious-the-unconscious
http://www.psychologistworld.com/bodylanguage/
http://www.nlpinfo.com/prime-directives-of-the-unconscious-mind/
http://www.psychologistworld.com/bodylanguage/

The masks we wear

As part of my work experience for the counselling course I have almost completed (yay!) I have started to co-facilitate a therapy self-help group once a week for people who are struggling with anxiety issues.

However, let me stop myself there. I used the word “struggling” didn’t I. Well, there-in lies part of the problem. This sense of struggling against, fighting with something that seems bigger, scarier and tougher than you are seems to just give it more power. If there is one thing that has become apparent already is that it seems the more they struggled with their issues the more powerful they seemed to become.

One of the group members however shared an insight which I just thought was so beautiful it had to be noted. For many sufferers of anxiety, depression often accompanies their anxiety, especially when one becomes weary of battle. Fighting an old familiar enemy day in and day out becomes exhausting, and yes sometimes it seems the wall is too high, the enemy too strong, your will and strength are sapped and you slump in defeat and allow depression to settle. What’s the point, they say to themselves.

This is the point when a lot of anxiety sufferers retreat and isolate themselves. In their shame and self loathing, they do not want to ‘show face’, fearing that others will judge them as harshly as they have judged themselves.

One group member talked about the mask she wore and how heavy it became, so she decided to drop it and let her friends see her without it. That was a turning point for her, she was blown away by just how loving and accepting her friends were. How kinder they were to her than she had been to herself.

And I thought, how true this is. We all wear masks to a certain point. Only showing the world and those we know a side of ourselves that we think they will find acceptable. Because, god forbid what would happen should we allow our mask to slip and our imperfections were made visible to all. Oh the horror! But as this group member discovered, the people we know, those we have gathered around us and who are our friends and even those we may only call aquaintances, are a lot more forgiving, accepting and loving than we give them credit for. And our imperfections, our true selves, are a lot more loveable than we think.

The burden of our self imposed perfect selves. The masks we wear, the shoulds, oughts and musts. What would happen if we just let all of that go? What would we find behind the masks…

Anxiety – Facing the enemy within

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety. Part of the reason is because I have just written an essay about it, and part of the reason is because I have been living with anxiety in one form or another for most of my life.

At times, I have been the at the centre of the storm, and at other times, I have watched others wrestle with this demon or demons as is often the case.

I think, I know a lot more about anxiety than I did only a few months before. And, based on my research and observations, the following is a short list (in no particular order, hence the bullet points) of what I know about anxiety, the enemy within.

  • Anxiety disorders affect about 14 per cent of Australian men and women at some point.
  • Anxiety affects the brain and the body. It may start in your head but pretty soon, your whole body is involved. See this infographic:

Affects of anxiety

  • Anxiety isn’t all bad. It’s what makes you get up in the morning, when you’d rather stay in bed, it’s what forces you to go to work so you can pay your bills. A little anxiety is a good thing. It gets things done. (It gets most of my essays done, that’s for sure!)
  • Anxiety gets stronger, the more you avoid it. Like any school yard bully, the more you try to ignore it, the more persistent it gets. But also like any classic bully, it is better at dishing it out than taking it.
  • Anxiety feeds on negativity. It can take a lifetime of therapy to undo the damage of one negative idea. Negative ‘what ifs’, ‘catastrophic thinking‘ and ‘inner critics‘ are anxiety’s friends and partners in crime. If anxiety is the ring leader, than these troublemakers are definitely in its posse.
  • The best way to rob anxiety of its strength is to do the opposite of what you instinctively want to do which is run in the opposite direction . In-fact, ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) which is one of the so called ‘third wave’ of CBT, actually encourages clients to ‘accept’ their anxiety as a part of the lives, kind of like an annoying yet unavoidable family member or uninvited guest.
  • Fear is a formidable enemy. It’s no wonder it has been used as an effective weapon on the battlefield in days gone past. However, for anxiety sufferers it may be helpful to remember, it’s not your fears which are the problem, it is fear itself.

Johnny Depp

If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety, the following websites may be of help. The Mental Health Association offers free anxiety support groups and Beyond Blue has a lot of information on anxiety and depression as well as free telephone or internet based counselling.

 

 

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