Friday, October 12, 2012

Decrease Your Anxiety from Psychology Today

The Six Best Ways to Decrease Your Anxiety

Use research-based coping strategies to overcome your fears

brain at peace
Calming the mind
We all know the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. Our hearts race, our fingers sweat, and our breathing gets shallow and labored. We experience racing thoughts about a perceived threat that we think is too much to handle. That's because our "fight or flight" response has kicked in, resulting in sympathetic arousal and a narrowing of attention and focus on avoiding the threat. We seem to be locked in that state, unable to focus on our daily chores or longer-term goals. As a Cognitive-Behavior Therapist with more than 15 years of experience, I have found a variety of techniques that I can teach my patients with anxiety disorders such as phobias, panic attacks, or chronic worry. Some are based on changing thoughts, others on changing behavior, and still others involve physiological responses. The more aspects of anxiety I can decrease, the lower the chance of relapse post-therapy. Below are six strategies that you can use to help your anxiety.:

(1) Reevaluating the probability of the threatening event actually happening
Anxiety makes us feel threat is imminent yet most of the time what we worry about never happens. By recording our worries and how many came true, we can notice how much we overestimate the prospect of negative events.

(2) Decatastrophizing
Even if a bad event happened, we may still be able to handle it by using our coping skills and problem-solving abilities or by enlisting others to help. Although not pleasant, we could still survive encountering a spider, having a panic attack, or losing money. It's important to realize that very few things are the end of the world.

(3) Using deep breathing and relaxation to calm down
By deliberately relaxing our muscles we begin to calm down so we can think clearly. If you practice this without a threat present at first, it can start to become automic and will be easier to use in the moment when you face a threat. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system to put the brakes on sympathetic arousal.

(4) Becoming mindful of our own physical and mental reactions
The skill of mindfulness involves calmly observing our own reactions, including fear, without panic or feeling compelled to act. It is something that can be taught in therapy and improves with practice.

(5) Accepting the Fear and Committing to Living a Life Based on Core Values
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach that encourages people to accept the inevitability of negative thoughts and feelings and not try to repress or control them. By directing attention away from the fear and back onto life tasks and valued goals, we can live a full life despite the fear.

healing anxiety
Soothing & healing strategies for your mind
(6) Exposure
Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to habituate or go down, as it naturally does. Fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Growing Up Unworthy by Tara Brach

When talking about the trance of unworthiness, I sometimes share this story:
A family went out to a restaurant for dinner. When the waitress arrived, the parents each gave their orders. Immediately, their 5-year-old daughter piped up with her own: "I'll have a hot dog, French fries and a Coke." "Oh no you won't," interjected the dad, and turning to the waitress, he said, "She'll have meatloaf, mashed potatoes, milk." Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress said, "So, hon, what do you want on that hot dog?" When she left, the family sat stunned and silent. A few moments later the little girl, eyes shining, said, "She thinks I'm real."
Most of the clients that come to see me are very aware of the qualities of an ideal parent. They know that when parents are genuinely present and loving, they offer their child a mirror for his or her goodness. Through this clear mirroring, a child develops a sense of security and trust early in life, as well as the capacity for spontaneity and intimacy with others.
When my clients examine their wounds, they recognize how, as children, they did not receive the love and understanding they yearned for. Furthermore, they are able to see in their relationships with their own children the ways they too fall short of the ideal -- how they can be inattentive, judgmental, angry and self-centered.
Our imperfect parents had imperfect parents of their own. Fears, insecurities and desires get passed along for generations. Parents want to see their offspring make it in ways that are important to them. Or they want their children to be special, which in our competitive culture means more intelligent, accomplished and attractive than other people. They see their children through filters of fear (they might not get into a good college and be successful) and filters of desire (will they reflect well on us?).
As messengers of our culture, parents usually convey to their children that anger and fear are bad, that their natural ways of expressing their wants and frustrations are unacceptable. In abusive situations, the message is, "You are bad, you are in the way, you are worthless." But even in less extreme situations, most of us learn that our desires, fears and views don't carry much weight, and that we need to be different and better if we are to belong.
The Buddha, who had his own imperfect, flawed parents, looked deeply into his own suffering more than 2,500 years ago, and his amazing insight was that all suffering or dissatisfaction arises from a mistaken understanding that we are a separate and distinct self. This perception of "selfness" imprisons us in endless rounds of craving and aversion. When our sense of being is confined in this way, we have forgotten the loving awareness that is our essence and that connects us with all of life.
What we experience as the "self" is actually an aggregate of familiar thoughts, emotions and patterns of behavior. The mind binds these together, creating a story about a personal, individual entity that has continuity through time. Everything we experience is subsumed into this story of self and becomes my experience. "I am afraid," "This is my desire."
The Thai meditation master and writer Ajahn Buddhadasa refers to this habit of attaching a sense of self to our experience as "I-ing" and "my-ing." We interpret everything we think and feel, and everything that happens to us, as in some way belonging to or caused by a self.
Our most habitual and compelling feelings and thoughts define the core of who we think we are. If we are caught in the trance of unworthiness, we experience that core as flawed. When we take life personally by "I-ing" and "my-ing," the universal sense that "something is wrong" easily solidifies into "something is wrong with me."
It's sometimes helpful to remember that wanting and fearing are actually natural energies, part of evolution's design to protect us and help us to thrive. But what happens when our caretakers and larger society react to these emotions and fail to mirror our essential goodness? What if others fail to see we are real? In these life circumstances, our wants and fears become the core of our identity, and we lose sight of the fullness of our being. We become identified with, at best, only a sliver of our natural being -- a sliver that perceives itself as incomplete, at risk and separate from the rest of the world.
If our sense of who we are is defined by feelings of neediness and insecurity, we forget that we are also curious, humorous and caring. We forget about the breath that is nourishing us, the love that unites us, the enormous beauty and fragility that is our shared experience in being alive. Most basically, we forget the pure awareness, the radiant wakefulness that is our Buddha nature.
Here is a short talk on the topic titled: "Behind the Mask."
Adapted from Radical Acceptance (2003).