Why anxiety makes me anxious

imageAfter two years of trying to overcome my symptoms of anxiety with the help of my therapist and my own self-will, it had gotten to the point where I realized it was time for some medicated help.

I had fought the idea of Xanax for some time because I felt my anxiety was still under my control. Eventually though I began to feel that my anxiety was controlling me more so than the other way around.

My doctor and I began discussing the benefits of Xanax.

“What are the side effects?”

“Will it be hard to lean off of it?”

“When will it start working? Better yet, when will it stop working?”

I asked question after question after question. Then I stopped myself when I realized I was having anxiety over treating my anxiety!

Dealing with anxiety is often a more anxious experience than the anxiety itself.

As humans, when something is uncomfortable and unpleasant, we want to make it go away as quickly and easily as possible.

Unfortunately, anxiety is not quite so kind.

I think I speak for others who also have an anxious brain when I say it is scary to think that this discomfort will always be present.

How can I ever truly be myself if my personality is always wrapped inside of this anxious cloud? Will my authentic self ever be revealed?

The truth is, asking these questions only generates more anxiety. Being anxious about being anxious is the worst form of anxiety in my opinion, mainly because there is no end to that mode of thinking.

What is the answer to why can’t I just stop being anxious? Asking that question is only tightening the grip that anxiety has on you.

We need to be committed to finding ways of managing and gaining control over our anxiety rather than wrestling with how to rid of it completely.

When we shift our energy towards coping strategies and tools we can use in those moments of anxiety, I guarantee they will be more useful than clinging to the thought of, “Why won’t this just stop already?”

I have tried the latter and it simply is not an effective strategy.

So the time has come to find a new approach. I am not sure what that is for certain, but dedicating my time to finding it out, rather than perpetuating negative thoughts, seems like a good place to start.

Steps to align our external world with our internal voice

 

imageDo your actions reflect what is going on inside of you?

You want to lose weight, but you dine at McDonald’s.

You want to spend less time at the office and more time with your kids, but yet your day planner consists of endless corporate meetings.

Here is a personal example: I absolutely hate feeling hungover. My body has never responded well to alcohol, even if it’s just a drink or two. I despise waking up the next morning tired, achy, and with zero energy.

But yet, more weekends than not, I find myself enjoying a couple glasses of wine, completely ignoring that voice of reason that is reminding me of my poor decision.

Human beings are a highly intelligent species but yet our mode of thinking often suggests otherwise.

So many things that overwhelm and stress us out, believe it or not, are within our control.

I could choose not to drink alcohol and it would rid of my hangover problem. It is that simple!

So how do we make our actions reflect our internal desires?

First, make clear what your internal wants and needs are. Make a list. Write out that you want to lose weight or start working out. Start out with just one or two of your top priorities so that you do not overwhelm yourself.

Second, make a list of what your life would look like if it reflected these goals. For example, if your life reflected your desire for weight loss, maybe your refrigerator would be stocked full of fruits and vegetable. Perhaps, you would go on evening walks. Envision which external actions would reflect your internal goals.

Lastly, after you have made clear what your internal desires are and what they look like on the outside, make a plan. Keeping with the example of weight loss, plan a trip to the grocery store with a healthy grocery list in hand. Make arrangements with a friend to begin walking a couple nights a week.

It can be helpful to find a buddy with similar goals to help hold you accountable but if you can’t, then hold yourself accountable.

Humans have much more willpower and self-control than we give ourselves credit for. The hardest part is tapping into it. Be commitment. Experiment and find what works for you. If you are visual, write out lists. If you need reminders to keep you committed, put up post-its around your house and in your car.

Happiness is increased when our outer world reflects our inner thoughts. When everything is aligned, there is peace. Make a commitment to seeking this peace, followed by a commitment to the steps necessary for getting there.

How to practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere

For all of you anxious and stressed out folks out there (and who isn’t these days?) I wanted to provide a simple how-to for practicing mindfulness and incorporating it into everyday life. In theory, the practice is rather simple, but in practice, in can be tricky. Like everything else in life, it gets easier over time. I’m no expert but I have attended a few classes, interned for Paul Harrison (themindfulnessmovie.com) and have been researching it for my final research project in graduate school. I think I have gained the most insight on mindfulness however, through being an anxious person who has used the technique as a way to regain focus and find clarity.

Mindfulness is all about being in the moment. A common misperception is that mindfulness is “not thinking.” I hate to break it to you anxious ones but to have a completely clear mind is impossible. But who wants to have an empty brain anyway? Wouldn’t we all rather focus on the beauty around us that we may not otherwise take notice of? Here are a few different ways I practice being mindful:

1.) I have tried to get into the habit of laying out my yoga mat first thing after I get out of bed and sitting quietly for atleast five minutes. Sit indian style, back straight, arms relaxed, eyes closed (or open if you prefer) and focus on what flows your mind. If your days to do list begins to run through your head, don’t immediately shue it away. Recognize it. Don’t judge it. Don’t yell at yourself for thinking about it. Just observe it. It is a challenge at first but slowly the thought will float away. If thoughts of your afternoon doctor appointment begin to arise, do the same thing. Observe the thought and release.

2.) You don’t need a yoga mat to be mindful. Today I practiced it for a few minutes on the train. Instead of allowing myself to be flooded with thoughts of things I needed to get done once I returned home, I listened. I listened to the guy across from me talk on his phone excitedly about his job. I listened to the sound system politely request that passengers don’t litter or assault one another. This pulled me from my inner chaos to the present moment.

More tips:
~Focus on your breath. Try breathing from the depths of your stomach. Observe the inhale and then release of the exhale. Feel your body begin to calm and muscles relax.

~Morning commutes are a great time to practice mindfulness. Rush hour traffic makes us all angry. What better time to practice being calm? Turn off the noise of the radio and put your phone on vibrate. Even two minutes of breathing and observing techniques will calm you.

~I have found that choosing one sense to focus on is a great way to direct my attention. As mentioned above, sometimes I focus entirely on what I hear. Or turn your attention to everything you see. Observe the car in front of you, the person sitting next to you (but don’t be creepy about it), the buildings your pass, the color of your socks, anything you see! Try not to judge what your are observing, rather stay in the present moment of just noticing.

I could go into further detail but want to keep this post simple as I understand practicing mindfulness can be overwhelming at first. It can be frustrating initially but it honestly gets easier every time you do it. Practicing for just a few minutes a day is a great start. Maybe think of the time of the day you are most stressed or anxious and set aside a few minutes to practice then. Or before bed or after you wake up. Experiment and stick with it. Life is intended to be lived in the moment and mindfulness is a great reminder of that.

The Mindfulness Movie

Paul Harrison has an incredible new documentary coming out called, The Mindfulness Movie. I am helping him spread the word, as I have found mindfulness to be an extremely helpful practice in my own life. The following is an article I wrote to help promote the film. Enjoy!

We in a fast paced world; there is no question about it. People walk quickly, drive at illegal speeds and perhaps most damaging, think at an outrageous rate. If a song played every time a thought entered your brain, imagine how much noise you would be resonating. Personally, I would be a walking mariachi band. Since graduating college and moving from my safe, comfortable childhood home in Ohio to the big, uncertain city of Chicago, anxiety has become a constant battle of mine. Perhaps the entrance into adulthood and all of the responsibilities it brings triggered it, or maybe it was moving away from friends and family, but nevertheless, anxiety found a home in my brain and quickly settled in. For almost three years now, I have tried everything from therapists to self-help books to medication. They have all helped in their own way, but by far the most calming and easily accessible tool to help calm the chatter has been practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the act of living in the present moment, focusing on your thoughts and emotions at a distance rather than judging and labeling them. At any particular moment, you are simply nothing more than present. You are not the water bill you keep thinking needs to be paid or the job deadline you have no idea how you are going to meet. It is impossible much more difficult to hear all of that noise while in this state of peace and serenity Perhaps one of the biggest perks of practicing mindfulness is that it can be done anywhere. You can practice on your long commute to work or while waiting for the Starbucks barista to make your morning latte. Unlike so many other tools and methods I have tried over the years, mindfulness requires no prescription and is free of charge. That alone makes it worthy of trying.

In his new documentary, The Mindfulness Movie, author, Paul Harrison, has created a two-part series to not only encourage people to use mindfulness in their everyday lives but also includes a training program in which viewers are trained by an unprecedented group of 35 world-renowned experts in the fields of neuroscience, psychiatry, relationships, sports, psychology, and quantum physics from around the globe, as well as major bestselling authors. In addition, it includes testimonials from a random group of participants in the program.

For more information on the film and how you can contribute, go to http://www.themindfulnessmovie.com/ and click on the Indiegogo button to help.