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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: GAD

Hey Siri, I’m Feeling Anxious: Apps for Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

There seems to be an app for everything these days. Smartphones have become like little pocket genies – your wish is its command. Whether you want a date, a ride, or help with a physical or mental health concern, your smartphone claims to have you covered. 

Recently, there has been a surge in apps claiming to help calm anxiety. Some offer mood tracking, others offer guided breathing and meditation, still others allow you to track your thoughts, claiming to utilize CBT methods to help you reframe unhelpful ideas. While technology can be a powerful tool, it’s important to think critically about how we use it and the effect it can have before we rely on it too heavily.

What does the data say about anxiety apps?

Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of the ADAA recently published a study conducted to assess commercially available anxiety apps. Researchers analyzed 52 anxiety/worry relief apps that purportedly use psychological techniques. They discovered that 67.3% of the apps were developed without any input from a healthcare professional, and only 3.8% of them had been rigorously tested.

So the people developing anxiety apps may not actually know much about anxiety, and they almost certainly don’t know if their app will really help you.

Authors of the study concluded that while apps have the potential to broaden access to mental health resources, there is currently a major lack of data regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of the available options. As such, the application space has yet to reach its full potential in helping people with anxiety.

What if an anxiety app is helping me?

Of course, the issue here is a lack of data. You may have found an anxiety app that does help you to manage your worry throughout the day. Guided meditations, breathing exercises, and journaling our thoughts and feelings can certainly be useful.

Should I ask Siri or a professional?

However, an app does not replace professional treatment. If you are dealing with anxiety that is impairing your ability to function in your day to day life, it’s important to seek professional guidance.

Human connection is important for our mental health.

Furthermore, while apps may one day prove to be a useful anxiety management tool, they will never replace the human connection that takes place in the context of therapy. In fact, it is actually the therapeutic relationship itself that is the most important aspect of therapy – it accounts for around 30% of the variance in treatment outcome, which is significantly more than any other factor, including the specific techniques used by the therapist (like CBT or mindfulness). This means that who your therapist is, how you relate to them, and the relationship you share is the most helpful part of therapy. An app will never be able to offer this relationship.

Technology may help us manage anxiety, but it may also be a source of anxiety.

Finally, when considering anxiety apps, it is important to note that according to the APA, smartphone use has been linked to higher stress levels, particularly in those who check their phones constantly.

Given the rapid development of technology and its ever broadening influence in our lives, it is important that we stay curious and aware of the potential it has to both help and hinder us, particularly when it comes to something as important as our mental health.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), 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.

References:

American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: Coping with Change. Stress in America™ Survey.

Sucala, M., Cuijpers, P., Muench, F., Cardos, R., Soflau, R., Dobrean, A., Achimas-Cadariu, P., & David, D. (2017). Anxiety: There is an app for that. A systematic review of anxiety apps. Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of ADAA, 34(6). 518-525. 

 

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.

Let’s Talk About Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Anxiety is a hot topic these days. It’s all over the news, and apparently it is on the rise. In the age of information and technology, we are constantly bombarded with doom and gloom news alerts, including reminders that on top of everything else, we are plagued with increasing anxiety. Eventually, these reminders can get exhausting and may even contribute to the anxiety that is apparently so prevalent in the first place.

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/poems-read-anxiety

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/poems-read-anxiety

Of course, there are benefits to all this conversation around anxiety: we have a better understanding of what anxiety is and as a result we may be able to understand and empathize with those who are struggling better. But it’s important to be careful that we don’t pathologize all anxiety, and that we don’t lose sight of the strength that exists in those who truly do have anxiety disorders.

Anxiety: Natural Response to Stress or Disorder?

The way we talk about anxiety today, it is easy to believe that all anxiety is inherently bad and forget that it’s our natural response to threat or danger. We actually need anxiety to survive; it prepares our body to respond appropriately in the face of danger. However, our physiological experience of anxiety developed back when the regular dangers humans faced included running from large, sharp toothed predators. So when we are experiencing the fight-or-flight response before a big exam or presentation, it may not feel particularly adaptive. But despite the discomfort that comes with anxiety, it is natural when it is experienced as the result of a particular situation or problem, when it is proportional to the stressor, and when it only lasts until the situation is resolved (ULifeline, 2016). Anxiety, though often painful, is an important and adaptive part of the human experience.

Image source: aconsciouslifenow.com

Image source: aconsciouslifenow.com

Though originally an adaptive response, anxiety does have the potential to be harmful when it manifests as “constant, chronic and unsubstantiated worry that causes significant distress, disturbs your social life and interferes with classes and work” (Active Minds, 2016). In other words, anxiety is no longer helpful when it begins to appear when there is no actual threat present. When a person experiences anxiety but has no threat to respond to, what happens? They begin avoiding situations that are actually safe. Their mind and body are telling them that safe situations are threatening, which can have a debilitating effect. When anxiety becomes disordered, it arises unexpectedly, is overwhelming, and, rather than catalyzing adaptive behavior in the face of a threat, often fosters avoidance of everyday situations (Here to Help, 2016).

Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/anxiety-photos-katie-crawford_n_7292548.html

Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/anxiety-photos-katie-crawford_n_7292548.html

So what is the takeaway? Anxiety is uncomfortable, but it helps us respond to threat, uncertainty, trouble, or feelings of unpreparedness (Active Minds, 2016). Anxiety becomes a problem (and possibly a disorder) when it comes seemingly out of nowhere and in the absence of a stressor proportional to the response, and it interferes with functioning in some way.

Recognizing Strengths as well as Struggles

There is no denying that feeling anxious is not pleasant. It can range from uncomfortable to unbearable. For those with anxiety disorders, anxiety is unpleasant on a whole new level; it can be completely overwhelming and paralyzing. It is hard to describe how out of control one can feel in the middle of a panic attack, or how draining it is to go through the day (week, month, or year) flooded with anxiety.

But in the midst of this struggle, it’s important to remember that anxiety doesn’t own you. It may be a part of you, and it may influence your life in various and profound ways. But anxiety does not determine who you are. A diagnosis does not define you. You are not a disorder. You are not weak, powerless, or alone.

Image source: http://quotesgram.com/from-brene-brown-quotes/

Image source: http://quotesgram.com/from-brene-brown-quotes/

Acknowledging the pain anxiety can bring is so important, but it can also be helpful to recognize that struggling with anxiety may also foster certain strengths. According to Dr. Tracy Foose (2013), trait anxiety is associated with being “highly conscientious, honest, detail oriented, performance driven, socially responsible, [and] self-controlled.” Furthermore, learning to cope with anxiety can push us towards an increased self-awareness and knowledge of ourselves. Because it is so uncomfortable, it can motivate us to grow and change parts of ourselves or our lives that may not be serving us. And once we learn that we can move through the discomfort of anxiety, we often feel stronger and more confident in ourselves knowing that we have the fortitude to move through something so profoundly difficult (Sutherland, 2011).

Finally, if you do feel like anxiety is controlling your life, you don’t have to stay stuck in this space. Not only can anxiety teach you to embrace vulnerability and reach out for support from loved ones, but therapy offers very effective treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can teach valuable coping skills, and can help to change your relationship to anxiety. Nothing will ever take anxiety away completely, but we wouldn’t want that because without anxiety, we wouldn’t survive. But therapy can help us learn that even in the worst throws of anxiety, we will survive, and even thrive.

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.

References:

Active Minds. (2016). NSOD: Difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder.  Retrieved from: http://www.activeminds.org/component/content/article/512-nsod-difference-between-normal-anxiety-and-an-anxiety-disorder

Foose, T. (2013, Feb. 19). Positive traits seen in anxiety disorders. SF Gate. Retrieved from: http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Positive-traits-seen-in-anxiety-disorders-4291474.php

Here to Help. (2016). What’s the difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder?  Retrieved from: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/ask-us/whats-the-difference-between-anxiety-and-an-anxiety-disorder

Sutherland, M. (2011). The Benefits of Anxiety. Retrieved from: https://willowtreecounselling.ca/articles/the-benefits-of-anxiety/

ULifeline. (2016). Anxiety vs. anxiety disorders. Retrieved from: http://www.ulifeline.org/articles/439-anxiety-vs-anxiety-disorders

The Importance of Boundaries

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Do you ever feel like you can’t say no?  Do you believe that you are responsible for the emotions of others?  Do you take others’ opinions and needs into account before your own?  Do you find yourself unsure of what you want or need (Eddins, 2015)?  If so, you are certainly not alone.  However, your feelings, thoughts, and needs matter.  By setting some boundaries in your life, you can begin to treat your needs as important.

Boundaries and Anxiety

Image source: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/boundaries-healthy-limits-or-barriers-to-relationships-

Image source: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/boundaries-healthy-limits-or-barriers-to-relationships-

For people who struggle with anxiety, learning how to create healthy boundaries can be a helpful tool.  Though sometimes people cope with anxiety by creating unnecessary boundaries or avoiding situations that serve as triggers, other times anxiety is experienced as a result of unclear lines between self and other.  When you don’t protect your sense of self, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and take on responsibility for everything and everyone (Eddins, 2015).  This can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety.  It is not hard for a vicious cycle to ensue, where a lack of boundaries leads to anxiety, and where anxiety leads to a feeling that you cannot set clear and effective limits.

What Are Boundaries

So what exactly are boundaries?  Boundaries help us to define who we are.  They orient us in our relationships, and signify to us and to others where “I end and you begin” (Eddins, 2015).  Boundaries can apply to any area of our lives, and can range from material boundaries to physical, mental, or emotional boundaries to sexual or spiritual boundaries (Lancer, 2015).  Boundaries are very personal, and there is not a right or wrong answer regarding to how to set ones that work for you.  They are based on your beliefs, values, opinions, and needs (“12 Signs,” 2015).

Boundaries as an Act of Love

A common misconception for people who struggle in this area is that setting boundaries is selfish.  However, self-care is not selfish.  Have you ever flown on an airplane, and heard the stewardess tell the passengers in case of an emergency to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs?  This “oxygen-mask” rule is a profound metaphor for the idea that we cannot take care of others if we have neglected to take care of ourselves first. 

Image source:  http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/healthyboundaries.htm

Image source:  http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/healthyboundaries.htm

Setting boundaries for ourselves and giving ourselves permission to articulate our needs is an act of self-love (Strgar, 2010).  And in the wise words of Brené Brown, “we can only love others as much as we love ourselves” (2010).  Furthermore, when we set clear limits in our lives, we are better able to be compassionate towards others.  Brown (2010) states that “the heart of compassion is really acceptance,” and when we lack boundaries, we are not accepting our own needs and we may have a difficult time accepting others if we feel they are taking advantage of us. 

So contrary to this idea that boundaries are selfish, they actually help us love ourselves and others better.

How Therapy Can Help

You are the only one who has the ability to set boundaries in your life.  However, therapy can be helpful in navigating this challenging task.  Therapy offers a place where you can explore your values, your feelings, and your relationships.  Your therapist can help support you in the process of determining where you need to establish stronger boundaries or areas in which you might benefit from more flexibility.

Therapy can also be a good place to experience a relationship with very clear boundaries.  Dr. Irvin D. Yalom (2002) describes “therapy as a dress rehearsal for life,” meaning that it is a safe place to encounter challenging aspects of life and relationships before you face them outside of the therapy room.  An important goal of therapy is to take what you have learned and apply it to the rest of your life, but it can be helpful to practice new skills in a safe space first.

Don’t Forget to Be Kind To Yourself

One final thing to note is that boundaries are learned (Lancer, 2015).  If you are not used to setting clear limits in your life, know that it is a skill that takes practice.  The best way to start learning this skill is to cultivate self-awareness and practice asserting yourself (Lancer, 2015).  Remember, it is important to give yourself grace and to seek support throughout this process.  If you feel like you could benefit from some professional support in developing boundaries in your life…

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.

References:

12 Signs you lack healthy boundaries (and why you need them). (2015).  Harley Therapy Counselling Blog. Retrieved from http://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/healthy-boundaries.htm

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.  Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Eddins, R. (2015). Keeping Good Boundaries & Getting Your Needs Met. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/keeping-good-boundaries-getting-your-needs-met/

Lancer, D. (2015). What are personal boundaries? How do I get some?. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-personal-boundaries-how-do-i-get-some/

Stgar, W. (2010). The importance of boundaries. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-strgar/working-boundaries_b_717339.html

Yalom, I. D. (2002).  The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

THE POWER OF BREATHING

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Whether or not you struggle with an anxiety disorder, we have all found ourselves overwhelmed by stress or anxiety at some point.  We each have slightly different stressors that trigger our body’s natural stress response, but we all know what the response feels like: sweaty palms, racing heart, tense muscles.  This bodily reaction can feel overwhelming, as if it controls us.  It is easy to feel powerless to our biological response to stress, but we have more control than we think.

THE STRESS RESPONSE

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Before we deem our biological reaction to stress bad, let’s talk about what happens and what purpose it serves.  When we get stressed out or anxious, our body begins preparing us to face threat.  Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  This causes the sweaty palms, racing heart, panicky breathing and muscle tension (McGonigal, 2013).  We often look at the stress response as inherently bad, because it is not healthy to be in the fight-flight-or-freeze mode chronically (McGonigal, 2013).  However, it’s important to remember that when your heart starts racing or your palms get sweaty, your body is just trying to help prepare you.  Nevertheless, these sensations can feel overwhelming, and perpetuate our experience of anxiety.  So how can we calm ourselves down once this cycle is in motion?

DEEP BELLY BREATHING

Using our breath, we actually have the power to activate our parasympathetic nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system allows our body to “rest and digest” as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response (Hunt, 2016).  While “take a deep breath” is common advice, how we actually take that breath is important.  This is how to use the breath to calm down:

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

  1. Find a comfortable, relaxed seated position with your feet planted on the ground; alternatively, you can try breathing laying down.  Now begin to bring your focus to your breath.
  2. With each breath, your belly should rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale
  3. Your shoulders and chest should remain still.  If you notice your shoulders rise, or your chest move, drop the breath down to the belly.  Breathing into your chest is reminiscent of hyperventilating, which will only further activate your sympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016).
  4. Now focus on breathing into your belly for four counts.  Hold your breath for a second or two.  Now exhale for five counts and relax (Hunt, 2016).  Repeat this process, focusing on your inhalations and exhalations, and making your belly rise and fall.
  5. You may notice that your heart rate speeds up at first.  Don’t panic or give up.  Your body is not used to calming itself down, and is simply adjusting.  After a few cycles of inhaling and exhaling, you should notice your heart rate begin to relax. 
  6. If you begin to get distracted or thoughts pop into your mind, simply notice they are there and then come back to focus on the breath
Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

See if you can practice doing four or five deep belly breaths a day.  Then see if you can work your way up to thirty seconds at a time.  Then maybe a minute.  Eventually, you will be able to sit in this space with your breath for a long period of time.

Being able to tap into your breath to find a calm, centered space, no matter where you are, is an invaluable resource.  This diaphragmatic breathing essentially turns off your sympathetic nervous system and turns on your parasympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016). 

This is not to say that you will never feel stressed again, or that you will never experience the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  But using deep belly breathing can help you to calm your body down and lessen the biological reaction to a stressful situation.

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.

REFERENCES:

Hunt, M. G. (2016). Reclaim your life from IBS: A scientifically proven plan for relief without restrictive diets. Toronto, ON: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

McGonigal, K. (2013, June). Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [Video File].  Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=e