A Word on Wellness
Let's continue the discussion on accepting anxiety, shall we? Last month I talked about the trap (remember the finger trap metaphor?) of desperately trying to avoid anxiety. Remember, the tricky thing about anxiety is that the more one tries to avoid, the more ensnared they become. This is true of the physical symptoms - I mentioned some last month - but also true of the avoidance of anxious thoughts. Today I want to talk about what it looks like to acknowledge and accept anxious thoughts, rather than either indulge them or try to avoid them.
Indulging an anxious thought could look like this: You have the thought, "I'm going to do terribly on this presentation tomorrow" and then you allow yourself to imagine all the terrible ways you might fail, the disappointment your boss will feel and how it will impact your overall career. You take this thought at face value, assume it's true and then follow it down the rabbit hole.
On the other hand, avoiding this thought might play out like this: You have the persistent fear that you will do terribly on the presentation, but you continue to put this thought out of your mind, you don't indulge it but you also don't acknowledge it, you are unaware. This may create underlying physical anxiety, trouble sleeping, a lack of motivation to prepare for the presentation (procrastination) and could result in you actually not doing well on the presentation.
One trick I love for acknowledging thoughts is something I was taught by one of my yoga teachers, Sean Feit Oakes. It's the "OH LOOK" practice. It's the practice of becoming a conscious observer of your thoughts. So that, in the above example you can say "Oh look, FEAR" and acknowledge not only the thought, but also the underlying feeling. You can continue to do this when the thought emerges, "Oh look, there's that fear again," By doing this, you are acknowledging the thought and feeling - you are AWARE. Because you are aware you can choose how to react. You can tell yourself that the fear is important information, but that the critical, worst-case-scenario thoughts are just thoughts, and not worth indulging. And (this is something I tell my clients constantly) ... just because you have a thought, doesn't make it true. Our thoughts are not necessarily important, accurate or profound.
We approach the anxious thoughts much in the same way that we would acknowledge a physical symptom of anxiety: "This is what anxiety feels like in my body and that's ok. It's simply another sensation and I welcome it"
* Same disclaimer as last month: If this is a new concept, it can be very difficult to put into practice without some help. Keep in mind that I just summarized something that I usually spend many sessions assisting clients with. If you are struggling with anxiety, I hope this is a helpful way to think about it, but it is not a replacement for the support, structure and expertise that a therapist can provide.
Something to Read
Cleveland Cavaliers player, Kevin Love on anxiety and panic attacks. I love seeing public figures use their platforms to break the stigma and normalize what we all go through. “It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles... and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them. " - LOVE
For clients who struggle with anxiety, I always assess caffeine intake. Many people view their morning coffee as a beloved ritual and never consider that it could be having an impact on their anxiety levels ☕️
Caffeine is a stimulant, and stimulates the “fight or flight” response in the body. This can exacerbate or even cause the symptoms of anxiety. If you’re struggling with anxiety one thing to play with would be caffeine intake, can you try cutting it back a little at a time?
Anyone out there a strictly decaf drinker? (Me!) What have you noticed about your coffee habits and anxiety?
A Word on Wellness:
Accept Anxiety, Whaaaat? Isn't the point to get rid of Anxiety? Hang in there with me... I will explain.
People who struggle with anxiety may develop a fear of (or aversion to) the anxiety itself. It's easy to become hypervigilant and cued into the most subtle physical changes in ones body. The heart rate increases, or maybe the body temperature increases, and the person may think "oh no, here we go again, I'm becoming anxious." There's a desperate desire to avoid this thing, but it's a trap.
Many people who struggle with anxiety make what's called a catastrophic misinterpretation when these anxiety symptoms show up. The slightest hint of one of these symptoms and the interpretation is "I'm going to lose control" or "I might have a panic attack, I'm going to become so anxious that my heart might explode." These are misinterpretations of the body's signals, and they are catastrophic because the more these thoughts and beliefs persist, the worse the symptoms become. Anyone who has had a panic attack can attest to how awful that experience is. Faced with the possibility that one might occur again, the temptation is to be on the look out for any signs in order to try and predict the onset and avoid it.
But the tricky thing about anxiety is that the more one tries to avoid, the more ensnared they become. This is true of the physical symptoms I'm describing above, but also true of the avoidance of anxious thoughts. One great metaphor for how this works is the Finger Trap metaphor. Remember that toy from when we were kids? The more you try to pull away, the tighter it gets... but move toward, accept and embrace... it loosens and you have your freedom.
There is a fear of losing control with anxiety. Of one's body, of one's thoughts. But, armed with the right tools and frameworks, it's possible to get control back by recognizing that experiencing anxiety is not, in and of itself, dangerous. Fighting it or avoiding it makes it worse, but if you are able to acknowledge - "This is what anxiety feels like in my body and that's ok. It's simply another sensation and I welcome it" - you are more in control and on the path to relief.
If this is a new concept, it can be very difficult to put into practice without some help. Keep in mind that I just summarized something that I usually spend many sessions assisting clients with. If you are struggling with anxiety, I hope this is a helpful way to think about it, but it is not a replacement for the support, structure and expertise that a therapist can provide.
I am very excited to be offering this group next month. This is a great fit for women in their late 20's and 30's who are struggling with anxiety and want to break the stigma by talking about it and working it out with the tools of yoga. Please pass this along to anyone who may benefit!
Our bodies are constantly trying to communicate our needs before we are conscious of them, but we are often not attuned, and in too much of a rush to pick up on these signs.
Our nervous systems are responsible for all kind of hormones released in the body. These can help us have more energy, or help us relax. At times, one of these systems may be on overdrive, say when we’re anxious. Our body may be giving us many signals that we need to consciously do something to course correct. But how can we do that if we aren’t aware of what’s happening? No surprise here, noticing signals from our bodies requires some mindfulness.
As you’re reading this, be aware of how you feel in your body. Any aches and pains, any tension, overall energy level?
When you are stressed or anxious you may feel your heart beating a little faster, sweaty palms or a heavy chest, you may have a lot of tension in your back, neck or jaw. You also may notice it in your behavior. Suddenly you are borderline running around the office or trying to accomplish too many things at once. Maybe you have lack of appetite and are having trouble sleeping. Notice these patterns, notice how you feel in your body. Check in with yourself regularly, “how am I doing? Feeling?” Once you are aware, you have the opportunity to do something about it.
If you are someone who is feeling more agitated (as described above) you will want to engage your relaxation system. Ways of doing this would include taking deep breaths, taking a walk around the block, closing the office door and stretching, meditation or whatever else you find works for you. The key is to try and do this before you are experiencing full-blown overwhelm due to stress: nip it in the bud, if you will. Maybe make it part of your regular routine.
Some of you may experience the opposite. You may feel sluggish, unable to get out of bed, no motivation, maybe you’re overeating. Pay attention to these signs that your body is giving you and actively do things to counteract this. Go for a brisk walk, do 10 jumping jacks in your room, call a friend and go out for dinner. You need help activating more energy in your body.
Our minds and bodies are more connected than we think. If you can give the body what it is lacking, or asking for, then it will ultimately benefit your mind and mood. .
What are patterns you are noticing? How do you feel physically? What can you intentionally do today to counteract or balance this?
These #tips aren’t to be confused with treatment for people experiencing Anxiety or Depression, they’re not a replacement for therapy.
A Word on Wellness:
Is anyone else's 2018 off to a running start? My goodness, the very first few weeks of this year have lacked their normal lull, but I'm fully embracing it. Bring it on! There's been a lot going on with my therapy practice and other ventures/collaborations. So, in lieu of a more lengthy post, I am going to share some updates below.
Expanding the Team:
I have expanded my practice and I'm happy to introduce my associate therapist, Catharine Pritchard Hawks. Catharine is an MFT Intern, and will see clients and accrue hours toward licensure under my supervision. Catharine has a background in Expressive Arts Therapy and works well with highly creative and artistic women, as well as those recovering from trauma (including sexual abuse and assault). Feel free to send referrals to Catharine directly!
** I have 2 daytime slots available for new clients, so you can keep me in mind for the awesome women in your life. And as always, please feel free to contact me if you are in need of great referrals for yourself. I have a list of my own favorite therapists up my sleeve and I love match making.
My friend of over 20 years Danielle Kelley (@d_lillian) is a gifted wedding photographer who has teamed up with designer Liz Franco (@heyitslizfranco) to create MTHR, a creative retreat for mothers. This is going to be an amazing opportunity for any mom who needs some fresh air, some inspiration and time to connect with other creative ladies. I'm happy to say that I will be at this retreat and on the agenda - to find out what I'll be up to, follow MTHR on instagram @mthrco for updates on the agenda and early bird ticket sales. Seriously, this is going to be awesome. I'm so honored to be involved. Pass this along to any awesome mama friend who might be interested.
I watched the Golden Globes last night feeling inspired (Oprah? 😭) AND knowing that many of my sessions this week are likely to circle back to the #metoo movement and difficult feelings it brings up. Difficult feelings? YEP...
See, it’s completely normal that something like #metoo can be empowering & inspiring AND bring up feelings of shame, confusion, anger and sadness. Many women are stopping for the first time to reflect on all of the shit they have endured, and that’s tough. In those places there may be regret, there may be trauma and most certainly there’s pure exhaustion. And that’s OKAY. If it seems like everyone but you is on a high from the #metoo movement, and the #timesupinitiative, please know that you are not alone. You have permission to feel how you feel and do what you can, when you can.
In the meantime, seek support from some awesome female friends or consider therapy if issues from your past (or present) have bubbled to the surface and are impacting your life. 2018 is the year I am more proud than ever to work (from a feminist perspective) with amazing female clients 🖤
More thoughts on this to come...
A Word on Wellness:
Happy New Year! What a great time to think about our mindset and how it is helping (or hindering) our growth. Whether you have a New Year's Resolution or not, consider this example of two different mindsets toward the goal of starting to run in the New Year:
I would like to start running, but I'm not a good runner. My first run was really difficult, I knew I just wasn't a good runner. Man, these other people who like to run are so lucky. This was a waste of a goal since I'm not good at it, I should just stick to the things that I know I can do.
I haven't figured out how to enjoy running yet, but I'm going to try. If my friend can run regularly and love it then I probably can too. Everyone starts somewhere. My first run was brutal, but that's what happens when you're learning something new. It will get easier.
Dr. Carol Dweck, out of Stanford, looked at whether people believe their talent, success, intelligence are innate (meaning they are born with it) or whether they believe it can be achieved, learned and cultivated by hard work and perseverance. She coined the terms Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset to describe the two. You can see in my example above that Human 1 has a fixed mindset, whereas Human 2 has a growth mindset. As you can imagine, if you believe that you can grow, learn and achieve, you are going to behave differently. You are more likely to stick to things, more likely to be positive and work hard.
I often tell my clients, "be careful what you tell yourself about yourself." If you tell yourself, I CAN'T ______ , I'll NEVER ______ then it will be virtually impossible to grow. If you want to work on being more assertive, but you are constantly telling yourself, "I am just a passive person," then there's no motivation to work at something you don't believe can change. See what I mean?
Watch where this shows up in children: "I'm not good at math, I can't make friends, I will never like sports."
Or in business, "We will just never hit that goal, we can't compete with ____, we will never be THAT successful." Examples of the fixed mindset are everywhere.
As you set some intentions for this new year, or as you go through the ordinary day, be curious about this. Pay attention to your mindset, do you tend to have a Growth or Fixed Mindset? If you catch yourself in a fixed mindset, can you notice this and see what it feels like to change your perspective to one that sees growth as a possiblity?
Something to Read:
Anxy, a beautifully designed magazine with the goal of challenging the stigma around mental health, has their second edition out and the topic for this entire issue is: The Workaholic
Something to Listen To:
"Where Should We Begin" with Esther Perel has been my obsession these past few weeks. Each episode takes you inside a one time counseling session with a couple. Each couple and their issues are at once unique and relatable. Grab some tissue.