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7860 Mission Center Ct, Suite 209
San Diego, CA, 92108

858.354.4077

At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

Filtering by Tag: ACT for anxiety

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

Jill Stoddard

By Annabelle Parr

Each May we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month to draw attention to and reduce stigma around mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime. And as we discussed last May during #CureStigma, “while 1 in 5 Americans are affected by a mental health condition, 5 in 5 Americans know what it is to feel pain. The frequency, intensity, and duration can vary, but pain itself is a function of being human. When culture stigmatizes the 1 in 5 and simultaneously dichotomizes illness and wellness, the resulting message is that it is shameful to struggle and to feel pain. In essence, stigma says that it is shameful to admit our own humanity.”

Do I need therapy?

Given that all of us will at some point encounter painful experiences and emotions, this year we are discussing how to know when it might be helpful to seek therapy. Though it may be clear that those affected by a previously diagnosed mental health condition could benefit from therapy, for those who are either undiagnosed or are struggling with anxiety, stress, grief, sadness, etc. but do not meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder, it may be harder to discern whether therapy is warranted.

How am I functioning in the important areas of my life?

For nearly every condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V; APA, 2013), clinically significant impairment in an important area of functioning is a required criterion to receive a diagnosis. In other words, the presenting symptoms must be making it very difficult to function at work or school, in relationships, or in another important life domain (e.g., a person is feeling so anxious that she is not able to make important presentations at work, or so stressed that he is finding it difficult to connect with his loved ones).  When life has begun to feel unmanageable in some capacity, or if something that was once easy or mildly distressing has become so distressing it feels impossible, it may be worth considering therapy.

Could things be better?

It’s also important to note that you do not have to feel as though things are falling apart before you seek professional counseling. Therapy can be helpful in a wide range of situations. It can help you not only navigate major challenges or emotionally painful periods, but also can enhance your overall wellbeing by helping you to identify your values and lean into them. Maybe things are going fine, but could be better. A therapist can help you identify what could be going better and can help you learn to fine tune the necessary skills.

I want to try therapy, but where do I start?

Whether things feel totally unmanageable or it just feels like they could be better, it’s important to find a therapist with expertise relevant to what you would like assistance with. Working with children requires different expertise to working with adults, just as working with couples and families requires additional expertise to working with individuals. Different conditions also correspond with particular evidence based practices. For stress and anxiety disorders – including social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic disorder or panic attacks, and phobias – evidence based practices include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The gold standard of treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and evidence based treatments for PTSD include Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) (all of these—ERP, PE, and CPT --fall under the CBT umbrella). So no matter what you are seeking treatment for, ensuring that the therapist you choose has expertise that aligns with the types of concerns you are struggling with is critical. For some more tips on finding and choosing a therapist, click here and here. For more information on the different kinds of licenses a therapist may have, click here.  

Though there is no right or wrong answer as to whether or not you need therapy, if you are unable to behave in ways that make life manageable and/or fulfilling because of difficult thoughts or feelings, you may find therapy beneficial.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, panic, phobias, stress, PTSD, OCD, or insomnia, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

When You Stress About Stress You’re Stressed

Jill Stoddard

Image source: https://www.amazon.com/Stressed-Desserts-Spelled-Backwards-Poster/dp/B017C9AZUQ

Image source: https://www.amazon.com/Stressed-Desserts-Spelled-Backwards-Poster/dp/B017C9AZUQ

What is your go-to when you feel stressed out?  Do you like a few glasses of wine, an hours long vent session, or a creative excuse to get out of a social engagement?  These are all examples of experiential avoidance—an unwillingness to experience uncomfortable internal emotions or sensations and active efforts to change, reduce, or eliminate them (Forsyth and Eifert 1996).  Does experiential avoidance work to alleviate feelings of stress?  Yep.  It works or we wouldn’t do it.  But how long does that last?  Look at your personal experience and take inventory:

1.     what do you do or not do when you feel stressed?

2.     what does it get you (i.e., what discomfort does it relieve)?

3.     what is its cost?    

When our reactions to stress result in only temporary relief but come at a cost to our health, our relationships, or other areas of importance, it’s time to reevaluate our relationship to stress. 

Think of it this way (Stoddard, 2019):  Imagine I have you in a little booth suspended above a barracuda tank.  I tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t get stressed and you will be fine.  Unfortunately, if you do feel stressed, the floor of the booth will open, dropping you into the barracuda tank.  But just don’t get stressed and you will be totally fine!” 

What do you think is going to happen?  Right—you’re stressed…and fish food.  Is it because you just didn’t try hard enough to control your stress?  Was the incentive not quite high enough?  Of course not—our most primitive instinct is to survive.  So why did you get stressed and end up swimming with the fishes?  Because when you are unwilling to experience stress, you are stressed about stress so you are stressed (Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson 1999).  See the trap?  Your relationship to stress becomes one in which you evaluate it as bad, dangerous, and deadly. 

So, of course, you are stressed about having stress. 

So what should you do the next time you hear on Good Morning America or in the Huffington Post “Stress is bad for you!  Stress will kill you!  You shouldn’t get stressed!”  It turns out, stress has been wrongfully getting a bad rap (McGonigal 2013).  While stress does release adrenaline (the hormone thought to be harmful to the body), it also releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone that enhances empathy and motivates us to seek and give care.  Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory—it’s good for our bodies and actually strengthens our hearts.  And, fascinatingly, all we have to do to mitigate the negative effects of adrenaline is simply appraise stress as helpful.

Come again?  Stress, helpful?  YES--stress can motivating!  Stress is what prompts you to prepare for the important job interview, watch over your small children in a crowded place, and get ready for the big game.  If you were totally chill, you’d likely bomb the interview, lose your kid at the mall, and blow the game.  As it turns out, there is an optimal arousal zone when it comes to doing well (Yerkes and Dodson 1908):  when stress is very high or very low, it has the potential to negatively impact performance.  But a moderate level of arousal is helpful. 

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The best way to manage stress is simply to change your relationship to it.  So stop struggling to avoid and reduce your stress (how’s that working for you, anyway?), and instead work on accepting that to be human is to know stress, and stress need not be our enemy.  You can do that by remembering:

1.     stress is motivating and can improve performance at moderate levels

2.     stress prompts us to seek connection with others and this is good for our health

3.     stress is only damaging when we evaluate it as damaging

4.     when we are stressed about stress we are stressed

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting you give up your meditation practice because it makes you feel less stressed.  There is nothing wrong with getting your bliss on—as long as your strategies don’t come at the cost of other meaningful and important pursuits.  So go ahead and yoga-it-up—just don’t neglect your friends and family while you’re at it.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

References

Forsyth, J. P., and G. H. Eifert. 1996. “The Language of Feeling and the Feeling of Anxiety: Contributions of the Behaviorisms Toward Understanding the Function-Altering Effects of Language.” The Psychological Record 46: 607–649.

Hayes, S., K. Strosahl, and K. Wilson. 1999. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. New York: The Guilford Press.

McGonigal, K. 2013. “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” Filmed June 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland, video, 13:21, https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend/transcript

Stoddard, J. 2019. Be Mighty: A Woman’s Guide to Liberation from Anxiety, Worry, and Stress Using Mindfulness and Acceptance. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

Yerkes, R. M., and J. D. Dodson. 1908. “The Relation of Strength of Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit-Formation.” Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology 18: 459­–482.

My Horcrux Diary

Jill Stoddard

guest blog post by Dr. Nic Hooper

Have you read the quote below by T.E. Lawrence?

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”  

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I’m a dreamer. Always have been. Ever since I could remember, I wanted to do remarkable things that would make the world a better place. Over the years, I’ve had lots of ideas for how to do this but often I would ‘wake up in the day to find it was vanity’. In other words, the ideas remained just that; ideas. On a recent project, I became a ‘dreamer of the day’.

I research an approach to human suffering named Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The pitch of ACT goes something like this: if we can be willing to experience all of our thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative, whilst continuing to move in valued directions, then we will do a decent job at this game of life. One night, after delivering an ACT intervention to teachers, I had this thought: “It is really easy to forget our values; I need to create something that will remind people of what is important to them.” In the following weeks I came up with the idea of an annual diary. For the most part, this diary would be like any other diary i.e. it would have days and dates and spaces to record meetings. However, it would also provide an opportunity for the user to record what is important to them at the beginning of each week.

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Ok, so there was the idea. Now I had to do something with it. The first step was easy; I loaded Microsoft Word and spent hours and hours and hours (with my co-author Dr. Freddy Jackson Brown) shaping the words and lines that would make up the inside of the diary. The second step was more difficult. I had to figure out how to take that file and turn it into a product. First question: a publisher or a printing house? No publisher was interested so we went with a printing house. Then, more questions. What sort of spine to go for? How thick should the paper be? How many copies should we buy? How should we sell it? What are the best postage and packaging options? How should we advertise it? How should we accept payment for it? How do we pay tax? Who is going to post them? How should we grow the product over time?

During the first and second steps I faced a fair bit of discomfort (i.e. seemingly powerful negative thoughts often crossed my mind: “this is a waste of time”, “nobody will like it” or “you should be spending this time with Max”). However, the third step of making my idea a reality brought the most discomfort: once I had the completed product, I sent it out there into the scary world. And given that success or failure has implications for how I feel about myself, my diary is a bit like a Horcrux in the Harry Potter story. In that story, the bad guy (Voldemort) poured his soul into a number of items and placed them out there in the world. Those items were called ‘Horcruxes’. His thinking was that this strategy would make him more difficult to kill.

Like Voldemort, I poured my soul into this Horcrux. And like Voldemort, any attack on the Horcrux feels like it kills a part of my soul (‘attack’ is an extreme word that is possibly misplaced here. By ‘attack’, what I mean is any evidence I see that the diary is not worthy, whether it be a lack of sales, little interest on social media or negative feedback). My Horcrux diary is now out there in the world fending not just for itself but, in some ways, for me also. A bit of my soul is unprotected; it can be scrutinized, criticized or ignored. It can fail. And if it fails then it will hurt like hell.

The feeling of vulnerability that comes with trying to do something remarkable is tiring, and it often makes me question whether it would have been better to stay a ‘dreamer of the night’. If my Horcrux is inside my mind then nobody can see it; nobody can hurt me. However, every time I think about this I come to the same conclusion. Although being a ‘dreamer of the night’ comes with built-in safety, if I didn’t do something with my dreams then I’d be living a life out of step with my value of making the world a better place, and consequently, I’d feel empty.

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Why am I telling you all this? For two reasons. Firstly, I want you to see how ACT is in my blood. Just in this blog you will spot how I used important ACT processes (willingness, defusion, self-as-context, values). Secondly, and more importantly, I want you to see that having ACT in my blood helped me to chase my dreams, and that it can help you to do the same. Chasing dreams will bring vulnerability but if you know what to do with vulnerability then you will be free.

Interested in checking out Dr. Hooper’s Annual Diary for Valued Action? Check it out here.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, stress, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com