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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: CBT 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

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

5 Myths About Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

By Trevor McDonald
edited by Annabelle Parr

People are talking about mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders, more often and more openly. Social media and access to digital content has helped facilitate the conversation. However, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, and while easy access to content can help reduce shame, stigma and misunderstandings about mental illness, it can also spread mistruths and foster outdated myths. This hurts those who suffer from mental illnesses as well as those trying to understand and support them. So let’s clarify some things about anxiety.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are the most common American mental illness, affecting 40 million adults – 18% of the population. Despite this substantial figure, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that only 33 percent of those suffering will receive treatment.

Anxiety is a blanket term. We all know what it feels like to feel anxious. But when we talk about anxiety as a mental illness, we may be referring to any number of disorders, from generalized anxiety disorder to social anxiety disorder to panic disorder to a specific phobia. Though all of these things fall under “anxiety,” each manifestation looks and feels a bit different.

Fortunately, anxiety disorders can be treated. Having a supportive network that includes mental health professionals and ideally, understanding loved ones, is critical. The first step toward encouraging and facilitating treatment is dispelling myths and providing education for both those struggling with anxiety and the people around them. Here are five of the biggest myths about anxiety disorders:

1. “You don’t really have anxiety. Everyone gets anxious/nervous!” Of course, everyone feels anxious or stressed sometimes. But according to the DSM V, when someone has an anxiety disorder, they feel excessively anxious about a number of things more often than not, and it significantly impairs their ability to function in a major area of their life. We must understand that there is a big difference between feeling anxious about a particular event or challenge, and feeling the chronic anxiety that comes with an anxiety disorder. Furthermore, it’s important not to toss around statements such as “I’m so OCD” when all we mean is that we like our desk organized. Minimizing an anxiety disorder in these ways undermines the challenge that something like generalized anxiety disorder or OCD can pose to people who are struggling with them.

2.  “You can get over anxiety with yoga, taking a walk, or meditation.” While taking a holistic approach to wellness is smart, and such activities can help with the symptoms of anxiety, taking a yoga class won’t “cure” an anxiety disorder any more than it will spina bifida. Though it can be tempting to offer advice to try to help those struggling with anxiety, it’s important not to minimize their experience or assume that you have a solution to offer them. Only a mental health professional should be offering any kind of “prescription” or suggestion for treatment.

3. “Anxiety means a person is weak, or they must have had a really bad childhood.” The former is never true; the latter could be part of the foundation for an anxiety disorder, though this is certainly not always the case. Trauma can kick start an anxiety disorder, but it’s not the only source. A big reason people with mental illnesses don’t talk about their condition is because they don’t want to be seen as weak or feeble, even though they’re not. It takes tremendous strength to live with any disorder. Invisible disabilities can be especially trying because people can’t “see” the disorder a person is battling.

4. “Anxiety isn’t that big of a deal.” Everything is relative. Anxiety disorders exist on a spectrum. If you know someone with anxiety, you can’t gauge how severe their disorder is. But unless you are a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor, it’s not your job to gauge the severity of someone else’s anxiety. What you need to know is that anxiety is a big deal to the person suffering from it, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. Further, unlike a broken leg, anxiety can’t be seen on the outside.  So someone may appear perfectly put together on the outside, but is suffering in silence on the inside.

5. “I won’t be able to relate to someone with anxiety.” This myth is usually based on a person’s fear that they won’t know what to say when someone is struggling with anxiety. It’s human nature to want to “fix” things, but anxiety can’t be fixed that easily, especially by a non-professional. Remember that it’s not your job to “fix” someone’s anxiety or make it go away. All they really need from you is empathy. And listening well is far more important than knowing what to say. So when talking to someone with anxiety, let them lead the conversation, don’t judge them, and don’t try to fix it. Let them know that you want to understand and that you hear that they are struggling.  You might also offer to help them connect with professional help.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of anxiety disorders. Psychological research has given us a solid understanding of anxiety and how to treat it effectively. Of course, there is always more to learn, but now the bulk of our work lies in sharing our understanding with the community and eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that still surrounds mental illness. Working to un-learn false claims and myths of the past is a big step in the right direction. Doing your part to educate yourself and others will make a big difference in the lives of everyone with an anxiety disorder.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

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

Exposure Therapy Basics: What It Is & Why It Works

Jill Stoddard

Written by Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

 

 

“Face your fears.” The wisdom of this adage is built into exposure therapy, an intervention that has been extensively researched and shown to be very effective in treating various anxiety disorders. What is exposure therapy? We break it down here.

 

Anxiety disorders are usually characterized by excessive and debilitating fear or anxiety. The anxiety may become so powerful that it can feel as though it has taken on a life of its own, domineering a person’s relationships, work, and quality of life.  Though fear and anxiety are normal emotional responses to a threat (they motivate us to avoid potentially harmful situations), those with anxiety disorders often experience debilitating anxiety even when a truly dangerous threat is not present.  Despite the absence of something that may cause physical harm, the brain’s fear centers are fully activated, and for someone with anxiety, it strongly feels as though something bad will happen. It is proposed that anxiety disorders in part develop as a result of both classical and operant conditioning, two important psychological concepts that inform and guide exposure therapy.

 

Basically, fear and anxiety are actually reinforced and strengthened when we avoid whatever causes it (whether it be a person, place, thing, thought, memory, emotion, or physical sensation that acts as a trigger). When we avoid or escape something that makes us feel afraid, it’s like our brain sends us a message that says, “Thank goodness I got away from that scary thing! It must have been truly dangerous. I am safe now that I am not longer in contact with the threat. If I get close to it again, I better make sure to get far away again!” A cycle is created. The next time we encounter the feared stimulus (i.e. whatever it is that triggered our anxiety), the more likely we are to experience a heightened fearful or anxious response, and to have stronger urges to avoid or escape.

 

In exposure therapy, the therapist leads her client through a set of experiences intended to elicit the very fear that the person has been avoided. Though this may seem counter-intuitive, it is an extremely effective behavioral approach that helps the client free themselves from the cycle of anxiety and avoidance. Essentially, avoidance is “blocked;” the client begins learning how to face his or her fears, and in doing so, experiences habituation. Habituation is like desensitization. When someone is exposed to something repeatedly, it begins to lose potency. Anxiety and fear naturally drop off, and with repeated exposures, become less intense and long-lasting. Additionally, when avoidance is prevented, the fear/anxiety response is no longer reinforced and strengthened. This leads to an extinguishing of the fear response. In other words, a fearful or anxious response is “extinguished” and fades away over time.


Most people have trepidation about starting exposure therapy. It is admittedly uncomfortable, at least in the short-term. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the discomfort that may occur along with exposure therapy. Usually, it turns out that we hold beliefs about emotions (especially fear and anxiety) that interfere with our willingness to effectively face our fears.


Common myths about emotion typically include beliefs that:

  • Fear or anxiety will continue to escalate (without a ceiling effect or peaking) indefinitely until the person gets away from whatever is causing them anxiety
  • Fear or anxiety will become so intense that it will cause physical harm or death
  • Fear or anxiety will become so intense that it will cause psychological damage, insanity, a loss of control, etc.


These beliefs often reflect a fear of emotions stemming from a commonly-held belief that emotions are dangerous. In and of themselves, emotions are not dangerous – they are physiological sensations (along with thought & urges). The sensations are designed to motivate us to act. The feelings that come along with emotions may be experienced as overwhelming (especially when we don’t understand them or it feels as though they can do us harm), but they will not hurt you (and it is not physically possible for them to intensify beyond a certain point). Frequently, exposure therapy results in the added benefit of being able to tolerate intense emotions, and learn that it is safe to fully feel your emotions. It’s what you do with your emotions that count – how we ACT can have a beneficial or detrimental effect on our lives and well-being. Therapists help you to learn how to effectively respond to your emotions, so that they don’t restrict your way of life. Your CSAM therapist is well-trained in exposure therapy principles and will explain in more detail why it is not the case that intense, acute emotional experiences cause harm. In fact, one of the principles of exposure therapy is to ensure that individuals are absolutely not caused harm – otherwise that would defeat the point! Exposure therapy is all about learning that despite the anxiety, there is no danger, but rather, safety. Once this is sufficiently experientially learned and processed (not just known intellectually), dramatic change begins to occur.


Don’t worry – your therapist will collaborate with you to figure out the best pace of treatment. Depending on your needs, you may opt to participate in flooding (which essentially means that you face some of your most intense fears right away), or the more commonly used approach, gradual exposure (you work your way up an exposurehierarchy, starting with mild-moderate fears). Both approaches have been found to be equally effective, but differ in the length of time that they may take to complete, and in the likelihood of premature drop-out. Remember, exposure requires repeated practice facing your fears until a re-learning occurs. Sticking with exposure therapy until anxiety has naturally begun to dissipate (or tolerance of anxiety has increased) is essential for success.

Are you interested in using exposure therapy to tackle your fears? Our CSAM therapists are trained in exposure therapy and can help you effectively respond to anxiety using evidence-based methods. If you'd like to speak with a professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management for help with anxiety, please click here.

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References



Barlow, D. H., Craske, M. G., Cerny, J. A., & Klosko, J. S. (1989). Behavioral treatment of panic disorder. Behavior Therapy20(2), 261-282.


Barlow, D. H., Rapee, R. M., & Brown, T. A. (1992). Behavioral treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. Behavior Therapy23(4), 551-570.

Feeny, N. C., Hembree, E. A., & Zoellner, L. A. (2004). Myths regarding exposure therapy for PTSD. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice10(1), 85-90.


Foa, E., Hembree, E., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2007). Prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD: Emotional processing of traumatic experiences therapist guide. Oxford University Press.


Hofmann, S. G. (2008). Cognitive processes during fear acquisition and extinction in animals and humans: Implications for exposure therapy of anxiety disorders. Clinical psychology review28(2), 199-210.