Tag Archives: mindfulness

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.

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.

OCD: Alternative to meds…

OCD is an anxiety disorder where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity. An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters a person’s mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.

When I was researching tools for my anxiety I stumbled across a concept called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brains ability to form new neural connections, and its ability to adapt to changes. I was fascinated by this concept, particularly in the works of Dr. Jeffery Schwartz; he brilliantly illustrates his work in his book “Brain Lock”. His breakthrough discovery showcases that through self-guided practices we can change the neuroplasticity of our brain. Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder practiced his four-step cognitive behavioral method; these patients underwent PET scans before and after implementing the four-step technique. The results were groundbreaking he showed that something physical the brain can be changed by something non-physical the mind.

He scanned OCD patients, and found their brains were overactive; he then scanned their brains after implementing the four-step method and found their brains restored itself to a normal response. The reason why this is so groundbreaking is that through actively trying to change our response to anxiety or compulsions we truly can rewire our brains response.

Watch Dr. Jeffery Schwartz explain his method in the following video:

 

It is important to note that not all people who suffer with OCD can deal with their situation without the use of Medication. Medication can play a key role into making sufferers live a more fulfilling and manageable life.

Art Therapy

World of Psychology

3 Art Therapy Techniques to Deal with Anxiety

Art therapy can be valuable in navigating anxiety. It can become another healthy tool in our collection whether your anxiety is occasional or chronic. One big benefit of art therapy is its ability to calm the nervous system: When we’re focused on creating, our attention shifts away from worrisome ruminations.

“When our attention has shifted, our nervous system can begin to regulate. And we can have more access to the rest of our brains, thoughts, emotions, empathy and compassion,” said Doreen Meister, MA, MFT, a mindfulness-based, expressive art and depth psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif. This lets us process more difficult experiences, she said.

Art therapy also lets us express ourselves nonverbally, which helps us move away from our thoughts to see a visual expression of a situation, Meister said. This “can provide more distance from the situation; it can be containing and allow for a different perspective.”

Plus, “the simple act of creative expression connects us with an inner sense of vitality,” which can be invigorating, she said.

Below, Meister shared three activities from art therapy to help us explore our anxiety and access calm.

Anxiety Expressing Itself

This is one of Meister’s favorite techniques because it combines paying mindful attention to your body while drawing intuitively. She suggested doing this exercise when you’re feeling anxious.

First, gather the following: blank paper of any size; drawing materials (Meister likes to use oil pastels); tape; and any favorite materials. Tape the paper to your surface. Close your eyes. Check in with yourself, and notice how anxiety feels in your body. Notice where in your body you feel anxiety and how you know it is anxiety.

Next, open your eyes, and pick a color pastel (or whatever drawing utensils you’re using). Close your eyes again and draw a continuous squiggle without lifting the utensil from the paper. Do this “as if anxiety is expressing itself on the page. Stop when the movement [or] expression feels complete,” Meister said.

If your mind tends toward judgment or control, use your non-dominant hand. Now look at the squiggle you made. Turn the paper from side to side until you see an image emerge. “It might not make sense [but] try not to think too much about it.”

Using other colors or materials, develop the image. Then free-write for five minutes. You might write about the process of drawing your anxiety or the image. Or you might ask the image these questions: “What do you want me to know? Why are you here?”

According to Meister, anxiety often acts as our protector, so your responses might be: “I’m keeping you safe;” “I’m keeping you safe from difficult feelings;” “I’m making sure you do the right thing;” “I’m making sure you don’t end up on the streets;” “I’m making sure you won’t get hurt.”

A Collage of Calm and Safety

This exercise is about “creating a visual reminder of a safe place,” Meister said. “It’s helpful to soothe fear and vigilance.”

Gather blank paper, magazines, old photos, markers and a glue stick. Take several deep breaths. “Let yourself take a trip down memory lane, remembering any times that you felt ease, safe or pleasant.” This might be a location or with a person. If you can’t recall a memory, “imagine a location or person that would be relaxing and pleasant.”

Begin looking through your magazines. Cut out images that capture your attention and remind you of the memory or feeling of ease or pleasure. “Try to let the images choose you rather than seeking out the ‘right’ image,” Meister said.

That is, pick images that you’re drawn to even if they don’t make sense or fit in with what you’re thinking. Maybe you have “an inner feeling of like or attraction.” Maybe you linger longer on this image, whereas you move on quickly with others.

Once you have a collection of images, arrange them to create an overall image or metaphor, which speaks to what it’s like to feel safe or at ease.

After you’re done, you can use the image as a reminder of safety and serenity. “See if you can imagine yourself in that safe or pleasant place and what it feels like in your body; evoke all your senses to really embody the feeling.”

What Anxiety Looks Like

For this exercise use any materials or art-making techniques you like. You might paint or draw your responses. Or you might create a collage. Meister suggested considering these questions:

  • If anxiety had a body [and] personality, how would it look? How would it talk? What would it say? What does it care about?
  • What does your body [or] life look like under the grip of anxiety? How would it look if anxiety was no longer present?

It can sometimes seem like anxiety is the ultimate enemy. It just feels so uncomfortable, maybe even terrifying. Plus, it might prevent us from doing things we really want to do. Art therapy can help us get curious about our anxiety and better understand its motives. It can help us access calm, reminding us that ease is actually within us.

I also recommend the Color me calm books!

Color Me Calm: 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation

by Lacy Mucklow, Angela Porter (Illustrator)