Tag Archives: meditation

Amazing OCD Podcast!

I came across a beautiful couple Julie and Andy, who both dedicate time out of their life to host a podcast around OCD and Anxiety. This has been a wonderful resource for many people, and makes you realize that other people are also going through what you are. The stories of the guests will leave you inspired and encouraged. I really love their podcasts, not only do they interview people who personally are suffering with anxiety, but they speak with professionals and loved ones of sufferers giving a broader understanding of the disorder.

The link to the podcast is:

http://coldflyer.com/

 

Great Article about Mindfulness!

I wanted to share a great article and initiative by students of a Pittsburg university!

Students get their zen on at mindfulness fair

Will Miller | Senior Staff Illustrator

Andrew O’Brien / Staff Writer
March 27, 2017

Following the instructor’s lead Saturday, a group of students on yoga mats on the second floor of the University Club breathed deeply as they assumed happy baby and downward facing dog poses in unison.

The assembled yogis transitioned into tree pose, poised with one foot rooted on the ground and the other flat against the side of their straightened legs, hands pressed together in a prayer pose, arms stretched as high above their heads as they could go. Yoga — a spiritual and physical practice that originated in India — can strengthen the connection between mind and body by encouraging mental awareness, practitioners said Saturday.
The yoga exercises were just one part of Pitt’s Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies’ second annual Mindfulness Fair Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the University Club building.

About 400 Pitt students and community members attended the event, which offered talks, family-friendly mindfulness activities including sculpting lotus flower tealight holders, yoga and tai-chi demonstrations as well as free food and various informational tables. The fair also included meditation lessons, a mindful eating workshop and a panel discussion between parents about how to teach children to be mindful.

David Givens, a Ph.D. candidate in Pitt’s department of religious studies and the associate director and co-founder of the Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies, sat behind one of the informational tables distributing information about the CMCS.

Given the increasing proximity of finals week at Pitt, it’s a good time for students to learn to exhale.

According to the American Psychology Association, meditation is the most well-established form of mindfulness. A novice meditator might sit for just five minutes a day, eyes closed and focus their full attention on breathing in and out.

Concentrating on the simple, natural process of inhaling and exhaling diverts attention away from anxious thoughts and depressive rumination. It should come as no surprise that mindfulness and meditation can help those with mental illnesses.
“People find mindfulness personally and practically fulfilling,” Givens said. “A lot of evidence and reports indicate that practicing mindfulness helps reduce stress and helps boost energy levels, focus and concentration.”

A 2011 study from Duke University found that mindfulness “increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity and improved behavioral regulation.”

Mindfulness is all about living in the moment. Practitioners focus all their attention on their immediate surroundings, allowing errant thoughts to drift in and out of their brainspace.

Though mindfulness can be useful for anyone, from any background, it is a key part of religions worldwide. People seated at tables throughout the room distributed brochures about more well-known religions, such as Buddhism, and less common faiths, such as Eckankar — a new-age religion that emphasizes personal spiritual experiences as a way to get closer to God.

Mary Diodati from O’Hara Township has been practicing Eckanar for 42 years. She came to the fair to learn about other spiritual groups.

“Mindfulness brings out individuality,” Diodati said. “It brings people in touch with who they are, and shifts their focus away from trying to control other people.”

While Diodati and many others turn to mindfulness for spiritual fulfillment, some, like Pitt senior mechanical engineering major Sean McCarthy, place a higher value on the emotional benefits of practicing mindfulness.

McCarthy meditates for 20 minutes a day, and said it allows him to better understand and react to his feelings.

“I’ve reached profound moments through meditation,” McCarthy said. “You can get to the point where you’re not just being pulled around by your emotions, you’re making a choice how you react to something.”

In one of the fair’s featured talks, “The Science of Overcoming and Mastering Mental Illness via Mindfulness,” Pittsburgh-based ADHD coach Tom Menditto explained that practicing mindfulness can help treat conditions like depression and attention deficit disorder.

Engaging with his audience and all but ignoring his PowerPoint, Menditto shared stories of his personal experiences with mental illness.

“I’ve gone through this myself,” Menditto said. “I know what it’s like to suffer through depression and anxiety … when I wanted to kill myself, learning to love who I was was what brought me out if it.”

He described deep insecurity, anxiety, depression and suicidal urges he faced earlier in life, but said he’s reached a point of self-contentment through his practice. He encouraged others to embrace the parts of themselves that make them different.

“You are not who society tells you you are,” Menditto said. “Stop trying to be like other people. You were born a certain way. Be that way.”

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The hidden beast of anxiety…

In a new piece for the Players’ Tribune, Corey Hirsch opens up about his struggles with mental health issues. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

A great article by

For a long time, Corey Hirsch was overcome with dark thoughts.

In a new piece for the Players’ Tribune, the former NHL goaltender opens up about his struggles with mental health issues.

At age 22, Hirsch seemingly had it all: He’d earned an Olympic silver medal with Team Canada, and, as the New York Rangers’ third goalie, he’d been part of a Stanley Cup championship. But the goaltender felt suicidal. As he describes it in the Players’ Tribune, it was a feeling of overwhelming darkness disconnected from his outer life. “Darkness. Pure, relentless darkness,” Hirsch writes. “For no reason.”

The pain was so bad that, while with the Rangers, Hirsch tried to break his hand, hoping to be sent home to Calgary.

After the morning skate, I grabbed an extra stick blade from the bin and stuffed it in my bag. When I got back to my hotel, I sat on the edge of the bed in silence and took out the blade.

My plan was to break my hand and hide the injury until the next day at practice. That way, I could go down after taking a shot, and the team would send me home to recover without knowing what was really going on. In those days, the blades were wooden and heavy as hell. I smashed the blade against my left hand three or four times, as hard as I possibly could.

The Players’ Tribune

It didn’t work. Hirsch ended up with a badly bruised hand instead, and he stayed with the Rangers right up until the team hoisted the Cup. The next day, he promptly flew home.

Hirsch’s struggles continued, and he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. On an East Coast road trip, Hirsch pulled a trainer aside to ask for help. After one meeting with the team’s psychologist, Hirsch finally had a diagnosis: obsessive compulsive disorder.

Having a diagnosis came as a huge relief. Finally, he thought: “I am not insane. I am not a bad person. I am not weak. I have an illness, and there is a treatment.”

His key message? “A mental health issue is not a sign of weakness.”

For hockey players, struggles with mental health can be especially difficult to reveal. But Hirsch implores anyone who can relate to his struggles to find hope.

“There is a light, however faint, in all this darkness,” he writes. “There is help out there for you.”

To read more of Corey Hirsch’s story:

http://www.theplayerstribune.com/corey-hirsch-dark-dark-dark/

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.

Non-Judgement

Dealing with the discomfort of anxiety is a daily struggle. Sometimes it can feel like you are in control and other times it can feel completely unmanageable. When anxiety surfaces getting up to even carryout essential activities can be extremely challenging such as bathing, eating and sleeping. Anxiety feeds off of the fear of its victims, and wants to be noticed. It will try extremely hard to gain recognition making each thought worse then the next until it can hijack the spotlight.

How to practice non-judgment?

In conjunction to practicing being mindful and an observer of your thoughts, adding non-judgment to the equation can help a lot with diffusing anxiety. For example,

Anxiety provoking thought – “I am 40 and am still single, I will never meet anyone and will die alone”

If we look at this thought as just a thought, with no emotional response we now have shifted the paradigm to that of an observer. As an observer it is clear that there is a lot of personal judgment happening here, being hard on ones self and jumping to extremes of a bleak and lonely future. Instead of allowing the thought to consume you, try and welcome its presence maybe even if possible try and not judge the thought “I am aware of the presence of the thoughts, and do not have any opinion good/bad” or “Its okay that I had this thought, it does not mean anything”.

It can seem discouraging when anxiety seems to settle down for a bit and suddenly rears its ugly head again. The key is to not identify with the thoughts, no matter how extreme and fear provoking they become. By practicing non-judgment anxiety can no longer get your attention. Try and also remember that it is okay to have a day where you are not able to control your anxiety do not judge yourself or feel discouraged. It takes a lot of courage to not judge our fears and stressors.

Here are some great diffusion techniques that can really help:

http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/Defusing_Exercises

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The Beauty in knowing nothing…

What does paradigm mean? In the dictionary paradigm is described as a framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology. Every individual possesses a way of thinking that has been molded by our personal beliefs. Our personal beliefs are formed over time through our relationships, our upbringing, culture and our education. We don’t even realize that our perspective is being formed over time, and as we age it is sometimes even hard to pinpoint why we believe in something. We become protective of these beliefs and have difficulty when they are challenged. Why do we respond with such emotional conviction towards defending our principles? One of my favorite quotes is when Socrates describes being wise: “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing”. This really resonates with me in that it shows the importance of severing the emotional ties with our personal beliefs. This allows other possibilities to surface and limits the emotional impact our thoughts have on us. This also enables us to not be so protective of our views. The route of anxiety comes from the worry of the unknown, and the fear of the “what if”. I know for me personally, a lot of my anxiety is caused by my biggest fears coming to life, “what if I am a bad mother” or “what if I get fired and can’t support my family?”, “what if my health never gets better?” and so on… I use Socrates words to challenge anxiety-provoking thoughts, I do this by reminding myself that I don’t know what will happen and that is okay. I now try to welcome the many different possibilities life has to offer.

The idea of accepting the unknown is extremely scary. Anxiety sends us on a cycle of agony and seeking reassurance. It is not easy by any means, trying to strip away and re-train our mind from conditioned behavior. On the plus side our minds are extremely malleable and adaptable. When we actively try to change a habit we are able to do it, but it takes daily discipline and conscious awareness. There is no finite timeframe where this is achieved. For me it is still a daily practice, something that I will follow for the rest of my life. Some days will be easier then others, but the hardest is the beginning transition. Anxiety loosens its grip the less attention it gets, and overtime its voice turns into a whisper.