Watch this video to learn about the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Here's an interesting 6-minute video (below)of a TED talk by Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic about embracing the power of negative thinking. Dr. Chamorro-Prumuzic has researched the relationship between competence - how good people are at various tasks, and confidence - how good people think they are at those tasks. His research has found that roughly 10% of people are awesome and know it (realistic confidence), 10% of people are not up to par and know it (realistic self-doubt), and 10% of people are awesome but always think they can do better (perfectionism). The remaining roughly 70% of people tend to be overly confident.
Being confident in ourselves can certainly be a positive quality, especially when it's true. It certainly feels good. But overconfidence can also have negative impacts. It can lead to dangerous behaviors like texting while driving ("I'm a good driver, I won't get in an accident") or addictive behavior ("I'll just work out extra hard next month so it's okay if I eat all this junk food"). Overconfidence can also lead to narcissistic behavior, like the modern obsession with our social media profiles or our interest in people who are famous for being famous. So while overconfidence sure can feel good, there are some downfalls to consider.
In contrast, under-confidence isn't all bad; there are some silver linings. Under-confidence is characterized by negative thinking, something those of us who experience anxiety are all too familiar with. Often times we fear that we won't be able to handle something or that people won't like us or something bad will happen in our bodies or in our environment. And while with anxiety this type of negative thinking can go a little too far, it also serves as a form of threat detection. Maybe it's okay for us to worry whether we can handle texting and driving because we will be safer drivers. Maybe it's okay for us to worry whether we can handle a job if it causes us to go back to school to advance our careers. Low confidence, or humility by another name, can alert us to the gaps between our competence and our confidence, if we pay attention. So whether you experience anxiety or not, there are some positives to negative thinking and some negatives to positive thinking.
I recently watched this wonderful 3-minute video (below) by Brene Brown about empathy. Brene Brown, Ph.D. is a research professor, author and storyteller who specializes in the social science of "vulnerability." She has done some really fantastic work in that field, and a lot of that work has some subtle but powerful links with anxiety.
This particular video offers some insight into empathy and how it differs from sympathy. According to Dr. Brown, "empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection." As she describes, empathy is feeling WITH someone else. Empathy comes from a vulnerable place. It requires us to connect, not only with another person, but with the pieces of our own history and our own often painful experiences, and then share that emotion with our friends or loved ones. In contrast, sympathy is more cerebral and is all about putting a silver lining or a positive spin on someone's troubles. For instance, my mom passed away from cancer recently, and it has been a challenging experience for me. I've confided in family and friends. Some have been sympathetic: "Well at least you still have your dad" or "At least she's not suffering any more." True statements; yet not very comforting. But a few others have been empathetic: "I'm so sorry; it was really hard when I lost my parent" or "That must have been really tough, do you want to talk about it?" or "It's natural to be hurting and feeling a little lost". Much more comforting. When we confide our suffering in other people, we're generally not looking for someone to fix our problems or put a silver lining on our experience; we are looking for comfort, love, connection and maybe some validation. That is empathy.
If you want to learn more about empathy, take three minutes and watch Brene Brown's video below. Also, you might be interested in these two articles that talk about different types of empathy and about the connection between anxiety and empathy (spoiler alert: anxious folks are really empathetic; it's practically our super power).
One of the biggest challenges to overcoming anxiety, and one of the reasons that one-size-fits-all anxiety programs don't work, is the need to address the underlying way that we talk to ourselves. This great TED TALK by psychologist Dr. Guy Winch speaks to that challenge of improving, what he calls, our psychological or mental hygiene.
Dr. Winch draws strong analogies between our diligent physical hygiene - washing hands, brushing teeth, using bandaids, etc. - and our relative lack of mental hygiene. Life can be wonderful, but it's also challenging. We get a dozen little psychological nicks and cuts everyday. Sometimes they are inflicted by others - we are rejected for a job or a date or we get called a mean name. Sometimes we even inflict those little mental cuts on ourselves - we criticize ourselves looking in the mirror or we get down on ourselves for how a work presentation went. We can experience many of these little mental wounds every day. Sometimes they are much bigger - we get fired, a parent dies, a marriage ends, a child moves away. All of these thoughts and events can hurt. If they were physical hurts, we wouldn't think twice about cleaning the wound with soap and water or slapping a bandaid on there or even going to our doctor for help.
But when it comes to mental health, we almost never think to do that - we have poor mental hygiene. And just as physical wounds can become infected and grow to be much more painful and dangerous than they were initially, so too can mental wounds. We begin to obsess about a coworker's slight or our own perceived failures - we "ruminate." (Read more about rumination in my earlier article.) Rumination can be quiet harmful to our mental health and contributes directly to anxiety and depression. As Dr. Winch notes, distracting yourself for 2 minutes each time you find yourself ruminating can go a long way to improving your mental hygiene. There are lots of things we can do to improve our mental hygiene and yet we almost never think to. Check out this TED TALK to learn more.
"What do I do to overcome my anxiety?"
Most people experience this thought at least once (probably dozens if not hundreds of times) as they work to address and move past their anxiety. It generally happens during the "looking for the cure" phase, when we still hope that the answer lies in a nice easy 6-step or 10-stop program that, if we can simply follow the steps, will guide us back to a perfect life. Unfortunately, for most of us, anxiety doesn't work like that. And the reason is simple. Anxiety is a very energized state; trying to actively "do" something to get out of it, like force-feeding ourselves a dozen affirmations per minute, is unlikely to work because we're adding even more energy, through our actions, to an already supercharged state, it's like trying to put out a fire with more fire.
Overcoming or addressing our anxiety generally takes a much more passive approach, which is certainly not to be confused with doing nothing. As Dr. Amy Johnson is fond of saying, and I'm paraphrasing here - we are born okay, overcoming anxiety is less about expelling it from your life, and more about understanding the fact that we were, are, and will be okay, even in the midst of a high anxiety moment. It is a frustrating concept at times, it takes a little bit of trial and error to cement, but in my personal experience and in my work with clients, I find it to be true.
The key to overcoming anxiety is not a 10-step program to be followed to the letter (not to say a program doesn't have any benefits, I've learned some valuable information and tips from a few programs I tried), but instead just making a little bit of room for the anxiety when it appears. It's a rather awkward and frustrating experience, not unlike the 1-minute clip below of a character learning to surf in the movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. While we could all use a slightly more helpful coach than the one in this video, he is right about one thing:
"The less you do, the more you do."
I just watched this hilarious 3-minute video (below) by Brene Brown about blaming. Brene Brown, Ph.D. is a research professor and author who specializes in the social science of "vulnerability." She has done some really fantastic work in that field, and a lot of that work has some subtle but powerful links with anxiety.
This particular video offers some insight into blaming. According to Dr. Brown, we generally blame when we are in pain or angry. We blame because it gives us some semblance of control over that uncomfortable or frustrating situation. However, the unfortunate thing about blaming is that it has what Dr. Brown calls an inverse relationship with accountability - when we blame others, we miss the opportunity to see what role we had in the situation and what we might do to change it.
And it's that relationship that I think has a real connection with anxiety. Anxiety is, by definition, a very stressful, uncomfortable situation. When we feel anxious, we tend to blame. Think about it. Maybe you are anxious standing in line at the grocery so you blame the person in front of you for taking too long. Maybe you are stressed about a work deadline so you blame a coworker or become short tempered with your family. Or maybe you're having a panicky day and are afraid to be home alone, so when your husband calls to say he needs to stay an hour late at work you feel as if he's just said something utterly and unforgivably wrong. (Been there, just ask my poor husband who was on the receiving end of that particular blame game.) Panic and anxiety are uncomfortable. In some ways, it's not surprising that we start to blame others for that discomfort.
However, as Dr. Brown highlights, when we blame, we miss an opportunity to be accountable and to learn from the situation. Instead of blaming my husband and becoming angry with him for his boss asking him to stay at work an hour longer, I could have reflected on why I was so uncomfortable being home alone. Or instead of becoming angry with the coupon-wielding person in front of you in the grocery line, perhaps ask yourself why you are in a rush or why you are uncomfortable waiting an extra 60 seconds. Check out this hilarious short video by Brene Brown and start paying attention to when and why you blame, and how that might be related to anxiety.
P.S. If you like Brene Brown as much as I do, check out this other piece I've written about her TED Talk called "The Power of Vulnerability."
I ran across this great (and entertaining) 8-minute TED Talk by Joe Kowan about overcoming stage fright. A lot of us anxious folk experience some (or all) kind of stage fright, whether it's in an interview, a work presentation, a one-on-one conversation with a stranger at a party, or yes, a stage performance under the bright lights of terror. Many of us have been there - butterflies quickly migrating from our stomachs to our throats, sweaty palms, massive sweaty pits (let's be honest), maybe blurry vision, pounding heart, definitely shaky hands. But most of all we experience certain terror that we will become so nervous that we screw up and possibly [insert random bodily function - throw up, faint, forget how to speak, etc.] and everyone will see us and we will (hopefully) then die from embarrassment.
Joe Kowan sure felt that way when he began performing folk music. In his TED Talk he describes his rather unique and certainly effective way of overcoming that crippling stage fright. Basically he would open every set with a song about stage fright, engaging his audience and letting them know how truly terrified he was to be performing for them. As funny as Joe is, it really is a great technique when dealing with any kind of stage fright. Involving the audience, letting them in, releases us from trying to hide our terror, which of course only heightens our sense of impending doom. Sharing our nervousness, our anxiety, takes away its power. This is true of all kinds of stage fright situations, and, honestly, anxiety in general. Enjoy Joe's short stage fright-filled performance and think about letting the audience into your experience next time you find yourself on a stage/interview/date.
I've posted this before, but I think it's worth repeating... Perhaps you have seen this video of Louis C.K. appearing on Conan O'Brien and hating on cell phones. While hilarious, the best part of this short (6 minute) video is actually Louis C.K.'s comment on why we are so eager to reach for our phones in this day and age.
I urge you to watch the video (not at work just to be safe), but in short Louis C.K. admits that he, and probably many of us, can have a fear of being alone. When he feels that "pit of sadness and aloneness," as he puts it, he finds an urge to pick up his phone and "write 'hi' to like 50 people." Many of us know what he is talking about. Maybe you don't feel that everyday, maybe just sometimes. Or maybe you see friends or family experiencing that reflex.The best part of Louis C.K.'s appearance has to be what he says next though:
“You know what? Don’t [pick up the cell phone]; just be sad. Just let the sadness hit you like a truck. I let it come, and then I pulled over and cried so much, and it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic; you’re lucky to live sad moments. And when I let myself feel sad, I felt happy moments come in, because your body has like antibodies that bring like happiness to meet the sadness. I was grateful to be sad and I met it with profound happiness. I was grateful.”
And I think he is right. When we allow that brief wave of loneliness in, and don't distract ourselves with our phones or plotting and planning the rest of our day, we allow ourselves to "live in the moment." We allow ourselves to live in the present. Rushing around all day, trying to fill in all the gaps so we don't feel those moments of aloneness, push us towards an anxious life. If you are struggling with anxiety, I urge you to focus on living in the present. Allow yourself to be alone.
One of the most common "symptoms" of anxiety is excessive thinking. Ironically, this behavior is also one of the key ingredients that sustains our anxieties. So if you ever wondered why anxiety can be so repetitive or circular it is because it produces and is sustained by the same behavior - excessive thinking.
In the short (11 minutes) video below, Eckart Tolle speaks briefly about the nature of such excessive thinking and offers a few tips on how to step away from those mental ruts. I particularly like his metaphor of a dog following a scent to describe our thinking minds. Just as a dog stops suddenly to investigate a small scent, so too does our mind acknowledge a new thought. Then as the dog starts following the scent with its head to the ground unaware of where it is heading or what is going on around it, so too does our mind following a thought trail blindly. As the dog might lifts its head five minutes later only to realize that it doesn't know where its master is, so too might we become aware that we were lost in thought for several minutes. Surely it is as easy for any of us (not just anxious folks) to get lost in thoughts just as a dog so easily latches onto a scent.
Eckhart Tolle also offers some advice on how to release ourselves from excessive thinking, particularly by promoting what he calls "presence" or what others might call "mindfulness." It can be as simple as having small pointers scattered around our car, or office, or home. It sounds hokey, but imagine seeing such pointers dozens of times each day, and imagine that each time you are reminded of mindfulness and jarred from any rutted thoughts. Tolle also suggests practicing observing the world around you without judging what you are observing. This practice could simply be to take 10 minutes at lunch and gaze at the things around you, settling on one object after another, naming them if you have to, but practicing observing it without judging or evaluating it.
These are just a few practical things that folks struggling with anxiety can do to help resist the excessive thinking that drives that anxiety. To learn a little more, watch the full video below.
Have you ever had your fingers and toes tingle when you are experiencing anxiety? Or perhaps you have even had your arms and legs go a bit numb? Don't worry. These sensations are not abnormal. Many people with anxiety or panic disorders experience them. Check out my video below to learn more about why these sensations occur and why they're not as big a deal as it seems.
Here is a great video by Dr. Amy Johnson about ending habits and addictions. A lot of what Dr. Johnson talks about applies to anxiety as well. Anxious thinking is very much a habit or addiction. Think about the language we use in our anxious thinking:
I just have to... (finish the semester, get through this week, give this presentation)....
What if I... (don't get to work on time, can't remember everything I need to do)....
I can't handle this....
Much of the language we use in our anxious thinking has strong similarities with addiction. And in fact, our bodies experience a strong physiological response to such anxious thinking. We just need to do something or get past something and then we will be okay. And we frequently stress about what will happen to us if we fail.
In her video, Dr. Amy Johnson offers some great insight into the power we give habits and addictions as well as how we can overcome them. She also teaches a short course on this same issue, which you might want to check out.
Check out this Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson who discusses how schools are killing creativity. Serious topic, but a very funny presentation. According to Sir Robinson, schools are designed along the very linear path of preparing us for jobs. If it doesn't help us get a traditional job, schools generally don't teach it or foster it. To that end, schools unintentionally but systematically kill our creativity.
This hyper-focus on analytical (vs. creative) thinking also has the unfortunate side effect of leading us to overanalyze or overthink. Us anxious folk already love to find "evidence" of something wrong or dangerous in innocent bodily sensations or comments from a friend/coworker or events in our lives. In short, we love to overthink. Alexia LaFata wrote a great article about that very tendency and about new experiments to counteract that tendency. You can check out my review of that article here, but first, listen in to Sir Ken Robinson.
Take a look at this great Ted Talk by Susan Cain about "The Power of Introverts." According to Ms. Cain, our world today is relatively extroverted and overly social, which exerts a great deal of pressure on introverts to be someone they are not.
This idea of trying to be someone we are not, really hits home for a lot of folks dealing with anxiety as well. Not only do our co-workers, friends, and family expect us to be a certain way or to be able to do certain things, but we put a great deal of pressure on ourselves as well. How often have you told yourself something like "I should be able to do this!" or "What's wrong with me? Why can't I do that?" In addition, in my experience, a lot of people struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, tend to be somewhat introverted. So check out this great Ted Talk and learn a little bit about introversion, how it might relate to anxiety, and how that knowledge might help you create more peace in your own life.
Reposting this great video.
Eckhart Tolle is a giant among those of us helping people to address their fear and anxiety. His philosophy and approach is rooted in his own personal battle with anxiety. In this nine minute video he talks about the nature of fearful thoughts - what they feel like, where they come from, and what to do about them. If you have ten minutes, it is definitely worth a watch. Also, let's be honest, his voice is just plain soothing.
Here is a hilariously eye-opening video by Jaggi Vasudev (Sadhguru), an Indian yogi, about why stress management makes no sense. In it, Sadhguru points out that we "manage" things that are important to us. We manage money; we manage relationships; we manage our health. Why would we manage stress?!
Perhaps that most interesting and useful part of the video is that stress is a choice, it does not happen to us. As he jokes - when we are in school we are stressed and want to be working, when we are working we are stressed and wish we didn't have to work, when we are unemployed we are stressed and wish we had a job. If we allow it, we can always find a reason to be stressed. It is our choice to allow stress into our lives. Thankfully, we can also choose to live without it. There is no need to manage something that is of no value to us.
I recently got a chance to watch a TED Talk about the power of vulnerability by Brene Brown, currently a PhD research at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. I found her TED Talk quite interesting, and the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize how applicable Mrs. Brown's research into vulnerability was to us anxious folk. So many of our anxieties orbit around the idea that if we can't do something we are not good enough; so I would strongly suspect that those of us who struggle or have struggled with anxiety are more likely to struggle with issues of vulnerability and self-worth. For that reason, I highly recommend a quick watch of this 20-minute TED Talk.
I won't spoil your viewing by outlining the entire presentation, but I will say that I agree with Mrs. Brown that while vulnerability can be excruciating and lies at the core of shame and fear and feels of being worthless, it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love (for others and for ourselves). As a society we try very hard to avoid vulnerability by numbing ourselves to it (e.g. debt, obesity, over-medication, addiction), by painting the world in black and white (e.g. increasingly partisan religion and politics) , by trying to perfect ourselves and the world around us (e.g. plastic surgery, pushing kids too hard), and by pretending that what we do doesn't affect other people (e.g. trolling, bailouts, recalls). And then of course we feel bad for doing these things and we want to numb that too.
So perhaps as a society we are not very good at being vulnerable right now, and yet without being vulnerable we cannot get the most out of our professional and personal relationships and we cannot by truly happy with ourselves. Mrs. Brown offers a few pieces of advice to achieve peace with being vulnerable:
- Let ourselves be seen for who we are - don't try to be something you are not.
- Love with our whole hearts even though there's no guarantee that love will be returned.
- Practice gratitude and joy even during moments of fear.
- Believe we are enough.
- Stop screaming; start listening.
- Be kinder to others and to ourselves.
According to Mrs. Brown, if we can do those things, we can harness the power of vulnerability. I believe that to be particularly true for us anxious folks and I urge anyone to take 20 minutes and watch this TED Talk.
I created this video awhile ago when I happened to have several clients that were all scared that their anxiety was taking away their identify. Many people that have struggled with deep, persistent anxiety has likely shared this fear. As anxiety shrinks our comfort zone smaller and smaller, and we do fewer and fewer of the things we used to enjoy, it is only natural to wonder whether we are losing ourselves or losing our value.
Fear not. Anxiety CANNOT steal who you are or what you're worth. You are not you because of the job you have or the money you make. You worth does not come from the friends you have or the places you travel. Your value and identity are independent from all those things. Anxiety cannot steal who you are. Watch my short video to learn a bit more.
Here's a quick video in which I address one of my clients' most frequently-mentioned fears, that their anxiety is making them go crazy. I've been there. I've been so wracked by anxiety and panic attacks that I worried I was losing my mind, losing my grip on reality. I was worried my husband was going to have to check me into an institution! And a lot of my clients have the same fear - am I going crazy?!
The bottom line is that if you're worried you're going crazy, you're not crazy. Insanity is the absence of rational awareness. Anxiety is, in part, a hyperawareness or yourself and/or your surroundings.
I wanted to share this short video I created about depersonalization or derealization. Depersonalization is a common symptom of anxiety and panic attacks. People describe it in many different ways, including feeling "detached from reality" or "out of it." Sometimes I would feel like I was underwater and everyone else was up at the surface. Well rest assured, depersonalization is not fun, but it's not dangerous either. It is actually a coping mechanism that happens when we are in an anxious, heightened state and taking in tons of extra sensory inputs. It is the brain's way of throttling back all that information.
Watch the short video below to learn more, but there are some things you can do about it. One of my favorites was always to run my hands under cold water. A single strong sensation like that often helped me come back to reality. Other people like to focus on doing logical math problems.
Learn a little bit more about why depersonalization happens and what you can do about it by watching my video.
Here is a great TEDx talk by Summer Beretsky, in which she draws links between typical survival behavior of the animal world and the options we have in addressing anxiety and panic attacks. In the animal world, when an environment is not healthy or supportive to an individual or population, they do one of three things:
1 - HIBERNATE - close off from the world until the environment improves
2 - ADAPT - modify behavior within and responses to the surrounding environment
3 - MIGRATE - move to a more suitable environment
Very often we folks who struggle with panic attacks and/or anxiety persist in trying to live in an unlivable environment. We try to fit too much into a day. We try to be a perfect employee or a perfect son/daughter. We take responsibility for things that we can't hope to control. We stay in jobs, relationships, schools, etc. that take more energy and emotion that we have to give.
I agree with Ms. Beretsky, we folks with panic attacks and anxiety can only survive and thrive if we leave/change those unsupportive environments by hibernating, adapting, or migrating. Ms. Beretsky, who struggled with panic attacks, talks about how migrating away from a toxic work environment helped her thrive again. As with many panic attack sufferers, I hibernated at first, cutting off the world around me, slowly shrinking my comfort zone until I was afraid to get out of bed. That didn't work. Eventually, I had to migrate away from a toxic job that wasn't for me and I had to adapt... a lot... by modifying my expectations of myself and the world around me and by evolving how I internalized and reacted to my environment. It wasn't easy, and at times I needed help from a coach.
There is no one correct response, but everyone with anxiety and/or panic attacks can learn from the animal world and hibernate, adapt, or migrate their way into a healthier, more sustainable environment.