Anxiety: Your Friend?

Anxiety: Your Friend?

Anxiety and panic attacks are uncomfortable. Sometimes anxiety is so physically uncomfortable that people experience heart palpitations, nausea, chest pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, or faintness. Sometimes anxiety symptoms worry someone so much that they call 911 or take themselves to the emergency room, only to be turned away after being assured that the problem is “just” anxiety.

In the counseling office, counselors often hear clients eager to alleviate and rid themselves entirely of anxiety. Certainly, relief would be nice, and some coping skills would be helpful. But what if honoring feelings of anxiety may help (in the end) to decrease anxiety? Before you say goodbye to your anxiety, consider the reasons why feeling anxious might be to your benefit.

Feeling anxiety may…

  • Be a catalyst for change.

People may feel persistently anxious when when something in their life needs to change. For example, if you err on the side of workaholism, burnout is a very real risk. Anxiety is your body’s way of signaling overload. It is alerting you to a need to say “no” to something on your plate. It can prompt you to challenge your list of have-to obligations.

  • Help you acclimate to new things.

Anxiety can be a sign that you are outside of your comfort zone. Anytime you do something new, anxiety is there to help you get your bearings, watch for “danger,” and minimize risk. Often, the more that you repeatedly experience being out of your comfort zone in a specific way, the more your comfort zone expands, and the less you need anxiety to help you be watchful.

  • Be self-honoring and validating.

When you tell yourself to “stop feeling anxious,” you are sending a message that there is something “bad” or wrong happening. That self-talk message can create a form of secondary anxiety– anxiety about having anxiety! These worried thoughts about the anxiety itself can increase tension (and add in guilt or shame), rather than alleviate stress. Instead, if you tell yourself that it’s okay to feel nervous or be panicked, they can begin to feel more okay with themselves and honor the good reasons why they might be anxious.

  • Ease a panic attack.

Most of the time, panic attacks are triggered by something stressful in your environment, then made worse by “danger” thoughts about the panic itself. Common catastrophic thoughts experienced during a panic attack include (but aren’t limited to):

  • “I shouldn’t be so anxious.”
  • “I’m having a heart attack.”
  • “Why is this happening again?”
  • “I’m going to faint.”
  • “I’m going to die.”
  • “My panic attack will never end. I can’t handle this.”

Panicked thoughts about your body’s experience of anxiety only make you more afraid. These thoughts feed your panic and make it difficult for your body to calm. In fact, how long a panic attack lasts might be somewhat in your control. If you can stop scaring yourself with catastrophic thoughts (or should-thoughts), the adrenaline from your fight-or-flight reaction will wear itself out in a few minutes.

Instead, try not to ignore what you’re feeling. Notice and feel the sensations of your anxiety or panic. Assure yourself that the feelings aren’t harmful (because they’re usually not). Don’t fight the feelings, but imagine yourself surfing them like a wave. The more you resist, the higher your anxiety; the more you accept what you’re feeling, the more quickly it can pass.

  • Increase Performance (at low to moderate levels)

Certainly high or persistent anxiety can be more of a hindrance than a help. However, at occasional low-to-moderate levels, anxiety prepares your body for action in a more productive manner. It increases drive, focus, clarity, strength, and stamina on intellectually stimulating tasks.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that is safe (and helpful) for you to feel. Let yourself feel your feelings, but then move on. Anxiety has a tendency to take over if it becomes your primary focus. Stay engaged in practice of living life. A mental health counselor can help you build a customized tool box for coping (and making friends) with anxiety.

Want to read more about Anxiety? Check out these posts:

5 Benefits of Mindfulness

5 Benefits of Mindfulness

There are a lot of terms floating around the online world out there and it can be difficult to determine which ones to trust as the real deal and which ones are simply trigger words or click bait.  One of the up-and-coming ones is mindfulness.  As more and more experts start to discuss it in relation to its positive effects with both depression and anxiety, it’s important to understand what’s really waiting behind this term.

 

What is mindfulness?

At its most basic level, mindfulness is exactly how it sounds: the idea of knowing your mind at the minute detail level within the present moment.  Being mindful means that you are listening to your thought process, acknowledging and identifying your emotions and simply being aware of what’s going on inside of you.  This is often combined with the idea of meditation or yoga or something that can help your focus on what’s going on within yourself.

The reality is that mindfulness can be present in many forms and on its own or in combination with meditation.  Regardless of how it is present, it is a healing process that has many benefits to its name.

 

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

  1. It’s free:Maybe it’s not the first benefit you’d think of, but mindfulness is totally 100% free. You can do it as often as you need to and it won’t charge you per use or per dosage.  For those that really enjoy it and find it helpful, this is a major perk.  It is also free from addiction or dependency in an unhealthy way.

 

  1. It’s easy to do wherever you are:Whether you are in the privacy of a bedroom or meditation space, a crowded shopping mall or anywhere in between, mindfulness is something you can practice just about anywhere and it is going to be able to offer you that comfort when you need it.  It’s also discrete which is good when you need a little bit of help in a busy spot.

 

  1. It has quantifiable results with both anxiety and depression:There are proven results – with more studies being done currently – on its positive effects with anxiety and depression, both. When used in combination with other therapies or even in place of medication, there are substantial increases in quality of life for those with anxiety and/or depression.  This is particularly helpful in teens who are not looking to engage with medication right away or adults with addiction concerns.

 

  1. It treats physical symptoms as well:There are also benefits on the physical side when it comes to practicing mindfulness such as with IBS and psoriasis.  While a lot of dependable studies have still yet to come, it seems as though mindfulness can be helpful across many playing fields, offering an actual option for those who suffer from both mental and physical health concerns.

 

  1. Can be a long-term additional therapeutic option:While mindfulness may not be considered a full treatment on its own for depression, anxiety, PTSD and more, it can be used in accordance with other therapies to offer prolonged relief and help in times of crisis from common mental health illnesses.

 

Mindfulness is popular online in social and professional circles for all of the right reasons.  As it continues to enjoy an online presence, more and more quantifiable research is going into its healing effects in mental and physical health to see how it can be exercised as a professional treatment option.  Time will tell just how useful it can be long-term, but it clearly has got a lot going for it already and makes it something that you’re going to want to know about.

Workaholism: The Hidden Epidemic

Workaholism: The Hidden Epidemic

I didn’t need to use drugs because my bloodstream was manufacturing my own crystal meth.

— WORKAHOLICS ANONYMOUS MEMBER

Workaholism is described by some as the “respectable addiction,” though its affects can be destructive and even deadly to those who are compulsively addicted to work.

 

  • How can you tell if you are a workaholic?
  • How do we distinguish workaholism from “hard work?”

 

In his book, “Chained to the Desk,” Bryan Robinson describes workaholism as “an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an over-indulgence in work to the exclusion of most other life activities. 

 

How is a person diagnosed as a workaholic?  Actually, workaholism is NOT a recognized mental health diagnosis in diagnostic manuals, though it might be a symptom of something bigger at play, as Dr. Robinson suggests. The urge to overwork can feel compulsive and anxiety provoking. A person with workaholism might not be able to clock-out mentally, even when they’d like to. It is a brand of achievement-oriented perfectionism, mixed with some rigidity, anxiety, and preoccupied thoughts.

 

The following is a checklist from Workaholics Anonymous (WA), useful for assessing workaholism.

  1. Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?
  2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can’t?
  3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
  4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?
  5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
  6. Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?
  7. Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?
  8. Have your family or friends given up expecting you on time?
  9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won’t otherwise get done?
  10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?
  11. Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?
  12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
  13. Are you afraid that if you don’t work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?
  14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?
  15. Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?
  16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?
  17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
  18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
  19. Do you work or read during meals?
  20. Do you believe that more money will solve the other problems in your life?

Did you answer “yes” to 3 or more questions? According to Workaholics Anonymous, a person can be considered workaholic if they answer affirmatively to three or more of the questions.

 

Is work addiction really that dangerous?

In Japan alone, thousands people die annually from karoshi (“death by overwork”). Over-work affects people holistically. Physically, they may experience ulcers, chest pain, heart attacks, asthmatic attacks, or urges to binge eat. Psychologically, workaholism has been connected to depression, anxiety, perfectionism, stress, anger, burnout, low self-worth and low self-esteem.  Socially, workaholics may be isolated from friends, family, or co-workers. In addition, their behavior can potentially lead to marital discord, divorce, or job loss. Children of workaholics are negatively affected too; research indicates that adult children of workaholics are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and feelings of low self-worth.

What happens in the workaholic brain? Work addiction alters the physiological and chemical nature of the brain. Workaholics attain an adrenaline high from binge-working. After the high, the person is left with a “work hangover,” which may involve heightened anxiety, irritability, or suicidal ideation. Akin to substance use disorders, workaholics often experience cognitive distortions that complicate their adrenaline addiction.

 

How is workaholism different from hard work?

The big distinctions are balance and boundaries. In order to have a balanced life, a person must be engage in healthy relationships, maintain outside interests and hobbies, and demonstrate overall self-care (ex. Slowing, family time, adequate sleep, etc.). Boundaries allow a person to distinguish their work life from their home life and social life and so forth.

Thomas Merton, in his book “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” described workaholism and its threat to inner peace:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

If you are feeling burned out from over-work and are ready to begin a journey toward recovery, a counselor at Star Meadow Counseling might be able to help.

 

References:

Healthyplace.com. (2018). Work Addiction Treatment | HealthyPlace. [online] Available at: http://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/work-addiction/treatment-workaholic/menu-id-54/ [Accessed 18 Sep. 2018].

Merton, T. (2014). Conjectures of a guilty bystander. Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books.

Robinson, B. (2014). Chained to the Desk. 3rd ed. NYU Press.

The Japan Times. (2018). The government’s ‘karoshi’ report | The Japan Times. [online] Available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/10/12/editorials/governments-karoshi-report/#.W6GQkehKiUk [Accessed 18 Sep. 2018].

Treatment4addiction.com. (2018). Work Addiction. [online] Available at: http://www.treatment4addiction.com/addiction/behavioral/work/ [Accessed 18 Sep. 2018].

Workaholics-anonymous.org. (2018). Home. [online] Available at: http://workaholics-anonymous.org/ [Accessed 18 Sep. 2018].

How to Ruminate Purposefully

How to Ruminate Purposefully

Do your thoughts ever end up stuck in the past, replaying a conversation or event in your head?

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema from Yale University describes ruminating as “a mode of responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and on the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms.”

You’ll know you are ruminating when:

  • You replay the same old memory over and over, like watching a video on a loop
  • You examine the memory in detail, play-by-play
  • You think (and re-think) about what you could have said or done differently to cause a different result
  • You try to remember exactly how another person reacted in order to evaluate yourself

Most people do not enter into ruminating thoughts on purpose. Instead, ruminating tends to be an automatic response and force of habit. You might even ruminate without realizing it consciously until you start feeling slightly (or a lot) embarrassed, anxious, disappointed in yourself, or guilty. Because the thoughts operate on auto-pilot, they are often unproductive. The thoughts can leave you with hyper-judgmental inner thoughts that have gone nowhere to propel you forward.

Have you ever paused to wonder: WHY ARE THESE THOUGHTS HAPPENING TO ME? WHAT’S THE POINT?

In her book, “The Language of Emotions,” Karla McClaren suggests ruminating might not only be replaying the past, but is in fact is the brain looking for NEW information. This new information might be of help to you in future, similar circumstances.

What if ruminating thoughts bring with them a powerful GIFT? What if you could channel their efforts into something that DOES help and DOES move you forward?

Here are some tips for ruminating more effectively and purposefully:

  1. Notice when you are ruminating and name it: “I’m ruminating.” This will help you shift into on-purpose self-reflection and away from a spiral into automatic negative thinking.
  2. Reflect back looking for learning points. What would I have done or said differently if I had a do-over? What did I miss that I’d want to watch for in the future?
  3. Avoid judging yourself. Labeling yourself harshly (Example: “failure”) serves no practical purpose and only causes you harm. In fact, rumination that is laden with negativity about yourself amplifies your experience of depression or anxiety.
  4. Be kind to yourself and intentional about practicing self-compassion. That means assuming the best about why you did or said what you did in those moments. In that moment, you probably did the best with what you knew. If practicing self-compassion is difficult for you, a counselor may be able to help.
  5. Some events we ruminate on were not in our control. Don’t take ownership of stuff that’s not yours, especially if it’s related to an experience of abuse.
  6. Know when to stop. The moment you realize that reflecting back is not helpful (HINT: You’re finding no further learning points), call it quits. There are a number of different strategies you can take to help you let go of unhelpful intrusive thoughts. Try out a cognitive defusion technique, prayer, or confirm to yourself out-loud: “These are just thoughts. They’re not helping anymore. I’m letting them go.” Some intrusive thoughts are harder to shake than others, especially if they’ve been around for a long time or if there’s trauma involved. Be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask a counselor for help.

 

If you’d like assistance shifting out of a destructive pattern of rumination, a therapist at Star Meadow Counseling might be able to help. We love to see clients shift ruminations into something more constructive, useful, healing, and less self-critical.

How to Gear Up for an Awkward Conversation

How to Gear Up for an Awkward Conversation

Years ago, I was the guitarist in a rock band. Well, okay, the term “rock band” might be a bit of an exaggeration. It was really a group of fresh-faced college students playing children’s music at local parks. The trouble was, our drummer had just learned some fancy new fills and was throwing off the beat–repeatedly, in every single song.

Ever the “nice” kid, I recall being wracked with anxiety as I prepared to confront the drummer. I waited passively first, hoping he would figure out on his own that he was the one messing things up. When that didn’t do the trick, I knew it was time to say something.

It was around that time that one of my mentors taught me how to use “I”-Statements, which forever changed the way I approach awkward conversations, and allowed me to find the words for opening up to the drummer.

 

“I”-STATEMENTS

“I”-Statements are an approach to confrontation that allows the person doing the confronting to take ownership for their own thoughts, feelings, and needs. Not surprisingly, “I”-statements typically start with the word “I.” Here are some example “I”-Statement sentence starters:

  • I noticed…
  • I feel… (and you have to use an actual emotion word here!)
  • What I’d like is…

In contrast, “You”-statements put the blame on the other person, setting into motion the type of defensiveness that often escalates a confrontation into a fight. A typical “You”-statement might sound something like– “Drummer dude, you’re screwing up our rhythm!” That approach would probably not have lead to anything constructive and may have damaged band cohesion.

Instead, an I-statement allows me to express how I’m being impacted and what I need. For example: “Drummer dude, I noticed myself struggling to keep a steady strumming rhythm during those transitions when you’re using the new drum fills. I’ve felt lost during those parts. What I’d like is to hold off on using the new fills until we can get in sync with our rhythm in practice.”

 

Sometimes, an “I”-statement doesn’t feel like quite enough, especially when the awkward conversation you are preparing is particularly hard for someone to hear.

Let’s be real! Being on the receiving end of feedback can be uncomfortable, exposing, and make us feel vulnerable! Most of us have a natural defensive mechanism that steps in when those feelings come up while someone is giving feedback. That defensiveness can come across as denying, blaming, excusing, or ignoring. When you’re anticipating defensiveness in your awkward conversation, the “Empathy Sandwich” technique might come in handy.

 

 EMPATHY SANDWICH

A palatable confrontation is like a bologna sandwich.

  • The top slice of bread is an empathy statement. You can demonstrate empathy (which helps soften your confrontation) by showing that you understand where the other person is coming from. You put yourself in their shoes. For example: “You’ve been so excited to try out the new drum fills you’re learning!”

 

  • The bologna is the meat of the confrontation– the main point you’re hoping they hear. “I noticed myself struggling to keep a steady strumming rhythm during those transitions when you’re using the new fills. I’ve felt lost during those parts. What I’d like is to hold off on using the new fills until we can get in sync with our rhythm in practice.”

 

  • The bottom slice of bread is another empathy statement. “I understand why you’ve been so motivated to try the new fills! You’ve got that battle of the drummers competition coming up and you’re worried you might not be ready!”

 

The empathy sandwich technique might not work so well if the “meat” of your sandwich has too many layers. Do your best to stick to the point. What do you most want them to hear? If you throw in the kitchen sink, they will likely miss the point.

The empathy sandwich technique works best when the empathy statements you choose assume the best in the other person, are non-judgmental, and reflect your sense of how the other person is feeling.

 

FEEDBACK GUIDELINES

 In her book, “Daring Greatly,” Brene Brown provides a checklist that a person can use to gauge whether or not they are ready to give feedback.

“I know I am ready to give feedback when–

  • I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you;
  • I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you)
  • I’m ready to listen, ask questions and accept that I may not fully understand the issue;
  • I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes;
  • I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges;
  • I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you;
  • I’m willing to own my part;
  • I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings;
  • I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity; and
  • I can model the vulnerability and openness that I can expect from you. (p.204, Daring Greatly)”

 

A printed version of Brene Brown’s checklist can be found at her website.

 

If you’d like support gearing up for an awkward conversation, a counselor at Star Meadow Counseling is available to help!

 

 

REFERENCES

Brown, B. (2017). Engaged Feedback Checklist. Retrieved May 28, 2018, from https://brenebrown.com/downloads/engaged-feedback-checklist/

10 Places to Relax around Vancouver, WA

10 Places to Relax around Vancouver, WA

Are you exhausted by the burden of responsibilities you’ve been shouldering? Do you need a break or a breather, even if it’s just for a few moments? Self-care is an essential component of survival in this busy world! All of us need moments when we can slow down and recharge.

Here are some places, all nearby around Vancouver, WA or Portland, OR where you might find reprieve:

 

  1. Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Located just north of Vancouver in Ridgefield, WA, the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge contains 5300 acres of natural habitats, alive with birds and other animals–all native species. The Refuge offers walking trails and an auto route you can tour in your car. When I visited, I saw a juvenile bald eagle, great blue herons, and nutria (beaver-like critters) all in one 30 minute drive!

  1. Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

The annual “Lilac Days” garden is open from April 21- May 13th 2018. You’ll be surrounded by the scents and sights of lilacs in full bloom in this stunning walkable garden. These aren’t just ordinary lilacs, but specialty varieties hybridized by Mrs. Klager during her life’s work. The Lilac Gardens are located in Woodland WA.

  1. Waterfront Renaissance Trail

The Waterfront Renaissance Trail is a 5-mile stretch of paved trail along the Columbia River. It connects Esther Short Park and Wintler Community Park. You’ll find awe-inspiring views of Mt. Hood and find peace as you sit on a bench and watch the water slowly move by.

  1. Wintler Community Park

Looking for a place to swim outdoors in the summer time? Or get some sun on the riverside beach? Wintler Community Park is the perfect place in Vancouver for summertime relaxation. It’s great for picnicking too!

  1. Salmon Creek Regional Park/Trail/Klineline Pond

The Salmon Creek Regional Park has it all–a spash pad for children to play, miles of paved walking/running/biking trails, roped swimming areas with lifeguard on duty during the summer, a plethora of picnic benches, and a pond perfect for wildlife viewing. It’s an ideal getaway if you’re looking for something close to the city of Vancouver that makes you feel like you’re miles away.

  1. Esther Short Park Summer Concert Series

Do you relax best to the sound of music? Every summer, free concerts are available to the community in downtown Vancouver, WA at Esther Short Park. Experience a variety of musical tastes, including jazz, bluegrass, rock, country, and even a symphony orchestra. A separate venue of free concerts will take place at the Columbia Tech Center in eastern Vancouver, WA.

  1. Vancouver Lake Park

Looking to relax on the water? Try canoeing, windsurfing, or kayaking on Vancouver Lake Park located on the west side of Vancouver, WA. This expansive park also offers sand volleyball, playground equipment, and a paved walking trail. It’s a beautiful place to slow down and connect with nature!

  1. Pearson Air Museum

Perhaps getting up close with history is your idea of relaxation. The Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, WA is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday, 9am-5pm. The museum is a slow-paced experience of ingenuity, showcasing aircraft as it transformed and developed over time.

  1. The Columbia Gorge Riverboat

If you have time (and money) for a longer excursion, a cruise along the Columbia River might be just what you need. You can select a cruise that best fits your interest– Are you interested in seeing the sights along the Columbia River gorge? Or are you more interested in learning about the history of the Lewis & Clark Expedition or about Native American legends?

  1. Powell’s City of Books

Maybe your idea of relaxation is getting lost in a good book. Powell’s bookstore in Portland, OR has a collection of books like nowhere else, boasting over two million books in inventory, a vast diversity of literature of every kind. A visit to Powell’s is not like visiting other book stores. It is truly an immersive experience, offering a fun kind of break from the rigors of day-to-day life.

 

If you need help relaxing, especially if it feels like anxiety has a hold on you, a counselor with Star Meadow Counseling is available to help. You can call us at 360-952-3070 or email us at info@starmeadowcounseling.com to schedule an appointment.