Tag Archives: anxious

The Beauty In Imperfection…

Everyone who has experienced anxiety can relate to the idea of feeling like they are going crazy. Our emotions and life feel so out of control at times that it becomes hard to reconnect to our “true self”. I thought about this idea for a while, the idea of not feeling comfortable with having fears or anxiety, and I realized why am I trying to strive to be perfect? Why am I so hard on myself for being anxious? I find myself in this vicious cycle of being so critical on myself if I have unconventional thoughts, irrational fears or don’t feel happy. This judgment has manifested in to immense pressure to want to be anxiety free. I rationalize to myself that if I am not anxiety free I cannot feel content.

I sat on this idea for a while, and I realized something…being “perfect” or “normal” is boring…and not interesting or exciting at all! I recently watched an interview with David Lynch (one of my favourite film directors) with Patti Smith (a very talented musician) and they talk about the beauty of disarray. Smith describes her house and the lawn she has as full of dandelions, long grass and untrimmed roses, in her absence a well-intentioned neighbor cuts her grass, trims her roses and gets rid of all the weeds. She was distraught to find her lawn made perfect, she embraced the natural chaos and loved every part of her lawns imperfections living harmoniously together. This story really resonated with me; I for so long was aiming to extinguish my anxiety not realizing that there is something breathtaking in being not perfect.

It is through the eyes of imperfection, that unique creative expression can be cultivated. I now try and embrace myself as I am and that has relieved a lot of pressure, and made me accept that I am only human. A human that is complicated, living in a life that is complicated and that is beautiful.

The Imp of the Mind

The Imp of the Mind by Lee Baer beautifully outlines the struggle sufferers go through. Baer a leading expert in the field of obsessive compulsive disorder shares his professional and personal insights. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is impacted by intrusive thoughts.

An illuminating and accessible guide to the kinds of thoughts that create extreme fear, guilt, and worry, The Imp of the Mind provides concrete solutions to a tormenting and debilitating disorder. Including special sections on the prescription medications that have proven effective, it is “a beautifully written book that can be a great help to people who want to know what to do about obsessions” (Isaac Marks, M.D., author of Living with Fear: Understanding and Coping with Anxiety)

Some beautiful quotes from the Imp of the Mind:

The Imp of the Perverse will try to torment you with thoughts of whatever it is you consider to be the most inappropriate or awful thing that you could do. To illustrate this point, each of my patients whose thoughts are summarized below (many of whom you’ll meet in later chapters) told me that his or her particular bad thoughts focused squarely on whatever was for him or her the most inappropriate, awful, or shameful thing he or she could think of doing:3”

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Mindfulness Meditation

 

Fantastic article that highlights the benefits of mindfulness meditation:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/01/26/mindfulness-meditation-may-help-treat-anxiety-disorders/#79a4a16c111d

Mindfulness Meditation May Help Treat Anxiety Disorders

I cover health, medicine, psychology and neuroscience.

Our understanding of the ways in which meditation works in the body and brain is becoming more and more nuanced with every study that comes out. Not only does a meditation practice seem to change the structure of the brain in certain ways, but it also seems to affect the way it functions. One way researchers can track this is by measuring the levels of neurotransmitters, hormones and biomarkers. A new study finds that eight weeks of meditation can significantly alter the stress response in people with generalized anxiety disorder, and this is evident in the levels of stress hormones and inflammatory markers.

The study will be published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

The researchers recruited for the study 89 people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). According to the NIMH, over 10 million people will be affected by GAD within a given year; nearly 20 million will have it at some point in their lifetimes.

The team randomly assigned the participants to an eight-week MBSR program or to a Stress Management Education course. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s generally an eight-week program, with weekly meetings, and instructions for home practice. (Mindfulness teaches one to be more in the present moment, and to pay attention to one’s thoughts with curiosity, and nonjudgmentally.) A lot of previous research on meditation has compared a group doing the practice to a control or wait-list group, rather than to a group undergoing another active treatment. So, since there’s probably some placebo effect at play in that kind of study, the researchers wanted to reduce this possibility in the current study and get closer to a randomized clinical trial.

To test the participants’ stress responses before and after the intervention, the team had the them do an old lab standard, the Trier Social Stress Test, where a person has to give a little lecture in front of a panel of researchers and then do some mental math. The participants’ blood is drawn to take measurements of stress hormones, in this case cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and inflammatory proteins (IL-6 and TNF-α).

At the end of the eight-week period in which participants took their respective courses, those in the MBSR group had significantly reduced levels of ACTH, IL-6 and TNF-α (cortisol reduction didn’t differ significantly between the groups). Those in the education course, however, had increased in these measures slightly, perhaps from having to be subjected to a second episode of the stress test, where they knew what was coming.

“Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, who’s studied the connection between MBSR and anxiety reduction in the past.

Plenty of previous research has found that meditation can reduce both physiological stress—measured by brain activity, structure and stress hormones—and people’s perceived reaction to stress. For example, a study from Harvard in 2009 found that after an eight-week course of MBSR people had significant reduction in volume in the amygdala, the part of the brain that governs stress. And these reductions were correlated to the subjective feeling that one’s stress levels were lower. A meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins in 2013 found that meditation was linked to significantly reduced anxiety (and depression and insomnia). Other studies have linked meditation to reduced levels of stress hormones and inflammatory proteins, so it’s very likely that this new study is accurate, even though it’s fairly small.

Given how unpleasant life with an anxiety disorder can be, it’s probably not a bad idea to try MBSR, or another form of meditation. (It’s generally best to do it under the instruction of a meditation teacher or mental health professional.) The research so far shows that it has some significant benefits, on several levels, and might be used as an alternative or addition to other types of treatment. But more research will be needed to suss out all the circumstances in which it’s most effective.

Intrusive Thoughts

 

We have all on occasion experienced an involuntary disturbing thought or violent image which leaves us upset and confused — these are called “intrusive thoughts.” Aaron Harvey, who battled these on his own for over 20 years, has launched an intrusive thoughts website to help people with OCD. According to the website, as many as four out of five people experience such thoughts. However, for some, the repetitive nature of these troubling thoughts may be a symptom of certain forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Many try to ignore these thoughts and push them out of their head, but that can make them even worse and more frequent. Attempting to repress the thoughts instead of addressing them can lead to heightened anxiety and depression, questioning of one’s character and abilities, creating isolating behavior. Often, those who are tormented by intrusive thoughts are too embarrassed or ashamed to share them or seek help. Intrusivethoughts.org delivers, through a stylish website, carefully curated facts and statistics, videos, information on different types of OCD symptoms and personal stories. It also elaborates on treatment through counseling, yoga, mindfulness and healthy eating techniques. Here, Aaron Harvey seeks to fill the void for an online community forum, which will help educate and provide support and treatment.

Aaron Harvey, a creative marketing entrepreneur, wrestled with these thoughts for over 20 years before being diagnosed. He began having intrusive thoughts when he was 13. “I started to have a lot of graphic violent images in my head that I couldn’t understand. It produced a lot of anxiety and led to panic attacks and constantly questioning my character,” he told Refinery 29. “Any time I would try to escape them, they would get more violent and more graphic.” This vicious cycle is common of many types of OCD. As it says on the website, “for 1 in 50 the fear becomes much harder to dismiss… These thoughts repeat over and over, faster and faster, making the fear we might act more real.”

Aaron Harvey credits the essay “Pure OCD: a rude awakening” by Rose Bretécher with finally providing him with some relief and hope. His suicidal thoughts and anxiety had become unbearable, leading him to search for help online. After wading through immense amounts of psychological studies and treatments, Bretécher’s article published in The Guardian was a breath of fresh air. It addressing the issue head on and with humor, “She forever changed, if not saved, my life,” Harvey told Market Wired.

Harvey saw the need for more approachable information on the disorder, and founded the not-for-profit Intrusive Thoughts, Inc. which launched the website as an “educational hub.” The site is essentially built to appeal to his younger self. “My goal is to capture me when I was 13 and I started to experience this,” he described to Refinery 29, “so that next 13-year-old doesn’t have to spend the next 20 years figuring out what the hell is going on and thinking that they’re a bad person.”

There was a clear opportunity to use my professional skills to create a resource with a youthful look and tone of voice that also humanized the experience of living with intrusive thoughts, promoted a holistic treatment plan and elevated conversations about mental health in the media,” Harvey said, commenting on the approachable and smart design of the website.

This important tool will provide relief to the many who suffer, and help them feel part of a greater community. Harvey hopes to create similar websites for all mental illnesses in the future.

Images: OscarKeyes/Unsplash, ChristopherSardegna/Unsplash, JayWennington/Unsplash, JenelleBall/Unsplash

PMS…and Anxiety

I have always noticed that my anxiety increases substantially before and during my period. A great article on this from http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/causes/pms

How Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Causes Anxiety

Anxiety is a unique condition. Generally it’s formed through years of experiences and genetics, and while there can occasionally be some external or physical health factors, anxiety is most often caused by faulty thought processes.

But what makes anxiety interesting is that it can also be caused by changes to the body’s stasis. Even though people think of anxiety in terms of anxious thoughts, these anxious thoughts can be affected by the health of your body. That’s why anxiety – including worries and fears – can be caused by premenstrual syndrome, or PMS.

Think You Have PMS Anxiety?

What’s amazing about mental health is that even if it’s caused by a physical change, it’s still a mental health issue. Our free 7 minute anxiety test can score your anxiety severity, and help you learn more about how to handle your symptoms.

Start the test here.

Fluctuating Hormones Cause Anxiety

PMS is often blamed for emotional changes, sometimes unfairly. But there is no denying that fluctuating hormones affect anxiety. It’s a well-known, established medical fact.

Yet even if your anxiety is caused by these hormonal changes, it can still be reduced with proper anxiety treatments.

Causes of PMS Anxiety

Both premenstrual syndrome and anxiety are incredibly complex. That’s why while many of the causes of anxiety from PMS are known, there are issues at play that may not be accounted for. Women’s bodies are all different and react differently to bodily changes. What may cause anxiety in one woman may not cause anxiety in another, or may cause anxiety in a completely different way.

But there are potential links that are known. The following are the most likely causes of PMS anxiety:

  • Cortisol Increase – Studies have shown that before a woman’s period, a stress hormone known as cortisol tends to increase. In many ways, anxiety is a form of long term stress, and stress is known to make anxiety symptoms worse. So before a period, when cortisol levels shoot up, anxiety symptoms would be expected to shoot up with them. It’s likely that women suffering from this type of PMS anxiety have lower levels of anxiety throughout the month that are simply exacerbated by cortisol, rather than PMS causing anxiety itself.
  • Cyclical Emotional Reactions – Similarly, any chronic stress is believed to make PMS symptoms worse. Since anxiety and stress sensations are a part of PMS symptoms, if you’re suffering from severe stress before your PMS symptoms occur, that stress will increase your PMS symptoms, which in turn will increase your stress symptoms and so on.
  • Fear of or Response to PMS Symptoms – Not all anxiety is caused by the hormones or PMS directly. Many women that suffer from intense PMS also start to fear those symptoms. Combined with cramping pain and other uncomfortable physical sensations, these issues can actually create their own separate form of anxiety. In these cases, PMS isn’t technically causing anxiety, but the PMS experience is leading to the development of anxiety in women that suffer from premenstrual syndrome.

In addition, simple hormone imbalance is known to lead to anxiety for reasons that are not always clear. Hormones play a direct role in the way your body produces and responds to the neurotransmitters that control stress and anxiety, so it’s likely that when these hormones have lost their balance, anxiety and stress are the result.

Combined with the sheer fear of emotional deregulation, the over-sensitivity that some women experience towards their body, and the feeling of being overwhelmed that often accompanies PMS episodes, it’s no wonder that anxiety is a common symptom in those suffering each month.

How to Overcome PMS Anxiety

Overcoming PMS anxiety is both simple and challenging. It’s simple, because there are several techniques that should at least reduce your anxiety overall. But it’s challenging, because your menstrual cycle is something you cannot control and varies in intensity from month to month.

One option to consider is any specific PMS treatments. Some of the most common solutions for PMS itself include:

  • Dietary changes, including adding Calcium, Vitamin E, Magnesium and Tryptophan into your diet, and possibly abstaining from caffeine.
  • Hormonal interventions, including the contraceptive pill.
  • NSAID pain relievers and any medications that reduce some of the physical pains of PMS (since physical pains increase stress, which increases PMS symptoms).

Still, it’s important to remember that most theorize that PMS doesn’t “cause” anxiety in a cause/effect sense. Rather, it makes the anxiety you already experience worse. In addition, even though anxiety caused by PMS is the result of physical changes, you can often treat premenstrual anxiety through the same behavioral principles that people use to treat anxiety not caused by premenstrual symptoms. The coping mechanism are the same, and often overlap.

Some examples of how to cope with PMS anxiety include:

  • Mindfulness – Because PMS anxiety often feels natural, many of those living with anxiety are unaware when they’re affected by it until after they’ve already suffered through the anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is the practice of stopping and noticing each anxiety symptom before it consumes you, and then doing your best to calm yourself down from them. For example, if you find yourself frightened or irritable, you stop, question the feeling, and try to relax your body.
  • Journal Coping – There are several coping strategies that involve journaling (like writing in a diary). One involves simply letting out all of your emotions on paper, since bottling them up can be harmful for your ability to fight anxiety. Another involves writing out positive things throughout the month, and then when you start to feel anxious or negative, looking back on all of those positives to remind yourself that your emotions are not based on your recent past.
  • Therapies – Several therapies have been created to improve coping in women with anxiety. General counseling can be very helpful and supportive, because it gives you an opportunity to share your thoughts all month while scheduling an appointment that should give you a chance to get help for your anxiety.
  • Exercise – Exercise is a crucial part of healthy living, and an important part of dealing with anxiety caused by PMS. Several studies have linked aerobic workouts with controlling anxiety symptoms. Exercise is also a general anxiety cure as well, so it should be especially effective for those that struggle with daily anxiety.