Truth Joy Beauty

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

Archive for the tag “Anxiety”

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.

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Revisiting Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability

This morning I felt in necessary for some weird reason to re-visit Brene` Brown’s now infamous talk, The Power of Vulnerability. I first watched it during a week long Counsellor Development W…

Source: Revisiting Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability

Why new relationships suck balls*

*Originally posted on the now defunct truthjoybeauty.blogspot.com

I have recently entered into a new relationship. The relationship is with someone I know very well and have loved for a long time and I guess, this new phase of our friendship has just a natural progression. And, in retrospect, this is not like any other relationship I have entered into. It is not based on lust or sex, although both are present. We are already past the first flush of romance because we kind of never had that stage. Our love moved from friendship to intimacy via confusion and distraction in a kind of circuitous route but somehow, I always felt we would get there.

Well now we are here. Well, almost here…just a few more stops before we reach destination; Happy Ever After Land! Who knows. With any luck, that’s where we are heading. But, for some reason, now that I am almost at where I dreamed I would be for so long I am having a rash of anxiety. Maybe it’s because we are not out of the woods yet. Maybe it’s because I have not been this close to something this good in a long time and I am afraid that someone or something is somehow is going to take it away from me, just as I’m getting used to the idea.

Maybe because it took us so long to get to this point, that this new reality seems unreal to me. I don’t quite trust it, not quite yet and perhaps, understandably so. The irony of it is however that I was so sure of it before. He was unsure for so long, or not quite ready to take that leap and I was the one who reassured him that it would be fine, time and time again but now, I’m the one needing the reassuring. I was so brave, confident and ready to dive in before but now… well to be honest I’m an anxious mess! Logically I know I should just relax and accept this fortuitous turn of events.  He is finally saying the words I have longed to hear him say for so long… and I am hearing them, but they just don’t seem really real, yet.

Love. It is such a scary, freaky ride. I keep telling myself to get back in the “Love Zone” and just trust my intuition which has got me this far. Logic is also telling me to chill the f**k out; This man loves you and has told you so. He has not rushed into things or taken this union lightly so what does that tell you? He is a measured and thoughtful man. A rare breed who does not take matters of the heart lightly. This is why you love him. This is why you waited for him, because you knew he was worth waiting for.

When everyone was telling you to give up, when all reason and sense told you to give up and even when you finally did, (on several occasions) you didn’t really. There was always a kernel of certainty inside that told me he would not let you down when it really mattered. You were always certain hat he wanted this as much as you did.

But. There is so much that can go wrong. We have all been hurt and have hurt in turn. I admit, I am as frightened as I’ve ever been. But too proud to admit as much, to him and until now… to myself. To almost have something you want so badly is almost as worse as having no chance at it at all. Still, is not risk the nature of love? It is a risk. There are no guarantees, no contracts (apart from marriage and even that is not nearly as firm as it used to be) and there is always a risk associated with putting all your eggs in another man’s basket (ha, pun wasn’t intended but I’m going to leave it in). Bottom line is I have no choice but to trust this. I chose him and he has chosen me. We are both pretty smart people, nothing to worry about. Nothing at all….

Relationships..they suck balls but where would we be without them!

However it’s entirely natural to feel anxious at the start of a new relationship. New relationships involve change and all change, even positive change is anxiety provoking. Especially if we have been hurt before. But it’s generally a good anxiety. The anxiety of stepping out of your comfort zone in order to pursue something which will possibly and hopefully enrich your life with meaning, joy and love. Now isn’t that something worth going out on a limb for?

John Lennon sums up this feeling in this song, Don’t Let Me Down. from The Beatles album, Let it be.

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.

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!

5 things I’ve learned about anxiety from a bunch of anxious peeps

I’ve recently finished co-facilitating two rounds of a 12 week therapy group aimed at helping anxiety sufferers conquer their fears. The ‘self help’ group, as it is called, is basically an exposure based 12 week program which encourages members to face their fears by gradually ‘exposing’ themselves to the source of their anxiety bit by bit. It’s called the stepladder approach and is based on basic behaviour therapy.

The aim of the group is to guide members, after explaining what exposure is and how to construct a stepladder, towards conquering specific fears or phobias. It’s not really structured for those who are diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), PSTD or depression for example. There is only so much you can do in a group context. That was the theory behind the group, however, the reality proved quite different. We had a few members that had a specific phobia or fear such as public speaking, or a specific social phobia such as fear of eating in public, but most of the members’ anxiety was not that specific. Most seemed to be suffering from a general malaise and in some cases extreme uneasiness in public, social phobia in general or just a case of debilitating shyness. Some had depression as well.

It soon became clear that the prescribed ‘stepladder’ technique was not going to work with these people. One could still go over the basic idea of the stepladder, that is, expose yourself to your fears, little by little. Take baby steps. But a definitely rigid approach was not going to do. So, I did some research and also, concurrently, I started an online course on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) but mostly, I learned from the group members themselves. Hearing their stories week by week, their awkward to embarrassing moments, their small and seemingly tiny triumphs and major breakthroughs…they taught me more about how to manage this thing called anxiety, which we are all faced with to some degree, than any text book or peer reviewed article I have read.

So here’s what I learned about how best to deal with anxiety from my research and from those that know best:

1. Accept anxiety as part of life.

Most people who come to a group such as the one I have just described have been struggling with anxiety for a long time before seeking help. Some for years. What they want most when they first come to the group or seek help is for a ‘cure’ that will somehow make their anxiety ‘go away’. But what is most freeing or a revelation for some is when we explain that anxiety is a normal part of being human, and that it will always be present to some degree. Struggling with it only makes it seem stronger and bigger than it really is, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away either… However, acceptance of anxiety is something altogether different. Acceptance allows for dialogue, it allows for a two-way exchange between the person suffering from anxiety and the message that anxiety is trying to convey. It is the first step towards healing, it signifies a willing to listen, to engage.

2. Face and then embrace your fears.

Whatever it is that makes you most anxious, that is where you need to start.  Jumping in head first is not a good idea, however a measured, stepladder if you will, approach really does work if done consciously, with self-awareness and with self-compassion. A step is still a step, no matter how small….however, there is a qualifier and the qualifier is as follows:

2a. Face your fears, only if they serve your greater good. That is, face and accept anxiety only if it serves your values. There is no point putting yourself through all that pain and anxiety for no good reason, if it serves you however, and helps you to achieve your goals or be the person you really want to be, then there is a very good reason.

3. Know your values.

One session, after learning about the importance of values in ACT I asked the group members to share with me their reasons for coming to group in the first place. They looked at me blankly at first, as if it was a silly question but then I explained… Yes, I know it’s because you wanted to get help with managing your anxiety but WHY? Why does that matter to you? Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay home, live with your anxiety to a degree and not push yourself to come here, or go on working through your stepladders each week? There is a reason why you do that, come to group each week, something you want to achieve or a way you’d like to live, and that reason should give you a big hint as to what your values are. Values guided action makes anxiety meaningful. It adds another, very powerful dimension to the how of exposure based therapy. The why.

4. Listen to what your anxiety is trying to tell you.

Anxiety is not always blind fear and anxiety is not a one size fits all broadcast. There are different types of anxiety. There is helpful anxiety and not so helpful anxiety. Sometimes, it is steering you towards something, sometimes it is telling you your off track. There is the anxiety that comes with moving forward, and the anxiety that comes with staying stuck. Only the individual can know what their anxiety means to them, or what it is trying to say. Mindfulness is one way of getting tuned in to what your anxiety is trying to tell you by displacing some of the static that most of us walk around with every day, without realizing it most of the time.

5. You are what you do most.

All the skills and techniques broached in the 12 week course (and in most CBT based therapies including ACT) are all pretty sound, yet none of them will work if we only pay lip-service to them. There is no magic pill or cure for anxiety or any other mental illness. Medication helps to a degree but it really only treats the symptoms, or helps with balancing out chemicals that have become imbalanced in the first place because of what the individual has experienced, reacted to and consequently how they have been behaving for many years. It takes dedication, practice and conscious choice to over-ride what have become automatic behaviours or ways of responding for many anxiety sufferers. The more you practice these new behaviours, thoughts, techniques and ways of being, the more they will seem natural.

 

So that’s pretty much it. (Well not really it, but a sizeable chunk, and besides, I’m getting sleepy!)

All good things take a little time, but like all good things, they are truly worth it in the end. As has been my journey towards becoming a qualified counsellor…it’s been a long 3 and a half years and in a few weeks I will be done with this first long stretch of road. Yes, in just a few weeks I will be qualified! However, while I feel I have learned so much, it gives me a certain amount of anxiety to realize that I have still sooo much more to learn. But, I’m pretty sure it’s the good sort of anxiety…

Neurobiology and Attachment – New research highlights the link between the biology and psychology of human interaction

It’s an exciting time to be getting into the world of therapy. In the last 10 years, brain research aided by technology which allows scientists and psychologists to map actual areas of the brain and have a good look at what happens there, has shed a fascinating biological light on the theory behind psychology and therapy.

One such example is attachment theory. In 1969 John Bowlby noticed that development in infants, both human and animals, is very much associated with how secure the initial attachment to their primary caregiver was. This is especially vital in the first year of life. If the primary caregiver is distant, disorganized, inconsistent or unavailable for whatever reason, the child will develop an insecure attachment style. Bowlby was basically testing out Freud’s theories and seeing if he could find a biological basis for Freud’s theory of psychodynamic development. As quoted by his colleague Mary Ainsworth in 1969, who further developed Bowlby’s theory by differentiating between insecure attachment styles, “In effect what Bowlby has attempted is to update psychoanalytic theory in the light of recent advances in biology’’ (p. 998). Current research in neurology is now doing the same for Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.

The most recent research suggests that how a baby interacts with their primary caregiver, usually the mother, has an actual effect on how their brain physically develops. This impacts things like emotion regulation, the ability to self-soothe, resilience, the ability to handle change and tolerate uncertainty. These earliest memories impact the brain and sets the mold for how a person relates to other human beings, and the self, going forward. Our early interactions with other humans and our environment effects how our brain regulates emotion and behaviour. In fact, learning to self-regulate our internal emotional states is one of the main tasks of childhood development. If this task is not completed successfully, or interrupted in some way, perhaps hijacked by trauma or some other circumstance, then the child emerges as an adult with an insecure attachment style, or an attachment disorder. It’s a matter of degree. Everyone has an attachment style, and falls somewhere on a spectrum of secure and insecure attachment. (To find out what your attachment style is try this survey: http://www.web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl

The fascinating thing is how this actually plays out in biology. Our early attachment experiences shape the way our brain, and specifically our right brain (our unconscious brain) organizes itself, (Schore & Schore, 2007). Subsequent experiences in a child’s environment contribute to the process of overall development. Our unconscious brain takes care of most of our body’s automatic functions, such as heart beat, breathing, motor skills etc. It’s also where our most primitive, basic urges emerge; our sexual drive, our need for nourishment and the need for security and safety. The instinctual impulse to reach for pleasure and avoid pain also lives here. (Freud called this the Pleasure Principal.)

This is also where the brain generates anxiety. Anxiety is a natural human response to perceived danger or threat. When we feel afraid or anxious, this part of the brain takes over and gets ready to either run to safety, or fight if running is not an option. Or if neither is an option then the ‘freeze’ response takes over. (Animals do this by literally ‘playing dead’. Humans are slightly more subtle  in their approach.) These are all instinctual processes that occur in our brain which are essential for survival, both immediate survival of the individual and the over-all survival of the species. As an infant, attachment to our primary caregiver is essential for physical survival. A human baby cannot survive on its own. A secure attachment allows the baby to feel safe and this allows for healthy brain development.

If the attachment process is incomplete, or inadequate for whatever reason, a child’s brain begins to rewire itself as a protection or defensive measure based on what it encounters in its environment. The brain’s automatic nervous system, (the ANS)  may become unable to re-balance itself. The ANS is what regulates the anxiety response in humans. When there is a ‘danger’ situation, it immediately sends word out to the rest of the body to prepare for danger. When the danger subsides, or is revealed to be not that serious, another part of your brain kicks in and tells the body to relax. If there is no opportunity to relax, or if a child experiences a constant state of hyper-vigilance, for example, an imbalance may occur.

As adults, these defences manifest themselves in numerous ways. Sometimes as an anxiety disorder, personality disorders, sometimes as an addiction disorder, sometimes as depression, or simply an inability to engage in or maintain stable relationships or other internal or external issues. (Internalizing refers to things that happen to you within your mind, externalizing refers to behaviours or actions that you undertake in the environment).

The bottom line is that everything we do as humans is in relation to other human beings. We exist interdependently. The role that attachment plays in human development is showing itself to be, in light of recent neurological research, increasingly fundamental. Freud under-estimated the need for attachment. He saw it as secondary to other basic human needs such as food, shelter and sex however as the work of Bowlby,  Ainsworth and more recently from a neurological perspective, Schore have shown, the basic need for attachment actually  resides more on the level of these fundamental human needs.

Attachment is closely related to our survival instinct as humans. Any threat to the attachment mechanism is seen by the unconscious mind as a point blank threat to survival. That’s why attachment disorders tend to lie at the root of many psychological imbalances.Understanding the way attachment works and why it is so fundamental to emotional development can be the first step towards healing that broken heart that many of us have been dragging around for so much of our adult life.

Further reading and references:

Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1969). Object relations, dependency and attachment: A theoretical review of the infant–mother relationship. Child Development, 40, 969–1025.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Vol. 1: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Judith R. Schore J, R. Schore A, N. (2007) Modern Attachment Theory: The Central Role of Affect Regulation in Development and Treatment. DOI 10.1007/s10615-007-0111-7

From the net:

A brief overview of adult attachment theory and research. Retrieved 30/12/14 from http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm

It’s Not All in Your Head: Affect Regulation in Psychotherapy. Retrieved 30/12/14 from http://www.centerforhealingandimagery.com/articles/its-not-all-in-your-head-affect-regulation-in-psychotherapy/

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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