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

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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: brain

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

Mindful Moods: Meditation, Yoga, and Your Brain

Jill Stoddard

by Lucas Myers

 

If you haven't been hiding under a rock for ten years you're aware of the yoga phenomenon. Famously popular among health conscious men and women, yoga is more then just a fitness sensation. Everyone from NFL players to CEOs is practicing yoga to improve mental and physical well being. These are some extreme examples of how even those with the most demanding of lifestyles can benefit from changing their focus from the stress of competition to a more productive focus on self-mastery that is demanded by yoga. Although some may be attracted to yoga to cultivate greater strength and flexibility, many maintain their practice because yoga positively impacts the way they perceive and interact with the world.

Most yoga instruction begins with a call to reflect on the intention of the day's practice. It may focus on bodily sensations as muscles contract and release or on how breathing impacts performance. Though some may not even know it, these activities serve the important function of increasing mindfulness during practice. Mindfulness, an intentional way of paying attention that can help you cope with the challenges of everyday life, has been proven in study after study to have many benefits and applications. As the yoga student improves, mindfulness carries over into other aspects of life.

Yoga is an excellent form of self-maintenance and care. Its ancient traditions serve not only to tone and strengthen the body, but the mind as well. As a yoga student becomes more mindful, awareness of the relationships between thoughts, emotions, actions, and environment is enhanced. Negative patterns and influences tend to be abandoned in favor of habits and practices that improve health and well-being.

Research on yoga has demonstrated its ability to aid in lowering blood pressure, relieve back pain, and lower stress. In a study of prisoners in Illinois, researchers found that tests designed to measure impulsivity and attention were answered with greater accuracy by inmates after attending 10 weeks of yoga instruction. Researchers from UCLA found that meditation from yoga can help lower depression in caregivers and may even increase cognitive functioning. In fact, cellular aging was shown to be slowed in association with meditation because it reduced the release of destructive hormones which are triggered by stress. That's right, yoga and meditation are not just associated with better health, they may even keep you young.

Why does yoga work so powerfully on the brain? To borrow a cheesy neuroscience joke: “The neurons that fire together, wire together.” Research has demonstrated time and again that the brain has the ability to rewire itself in response to experiences, a concept known as neuroplasticity. This means the brain is changing with every moment of experience, adapting and altering the ways that we relate to our own minds, bodies, environments, and other people. This gives everyone the potential to harness our knowledge of the brain to force positive changes by choosing experiences that increase our capacity for learning, coping, and processing. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are like exercise for your brain that can make it faster, stronger, and happier.

Any medical doctor or licensed therapist will tell you that, along with diet and sleep, exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your health and happiness. So how does yoga fit in? To borrow a phrase from Swami Beyondananda “it feeds two birds with one scone.” The body and mind are both being exercised in a process that allows them to renew and reinvigorate themselves. This combination can yield powerful results. Exercise reinforces a strengthened and disciplined mind by triggering the release of hormones that reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing. According to Dr. Jill Stoddard, director of the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, yoga can be a valuable adjunct to psychotherapy: “We know the mind-body connection is incredibly powerful when it comes to anxiety, stress, depression, and chronic illness. Through movement, breath, and mindfulness, yoga is one of the few practices that specifically targets this connection. I personally practice yoga and recommend it for our patients as a way to improve overall well being.”

References:

Axel, Gabriel. “Your Brain on Yoga: A Blueprint for Transformation”. U.S. News and World Report. September 4, 2013. Retreived from: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/09/04/your-brain-on-yoga-a-blueprint-for-transformation

Chan, Amanda. “Yoga For Carefivers: Meditation May Lower Depression, Improve Brain Functioning In Dementia Caregivers”. March 13, 2012. Retreived from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/13/yoga-caregivers-meditation-kirtan-kriya_n_1342389.html

Kawer, Stanton. “Yoga Made Me a Better CEO”. Forbes.com. March 25th, 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/2011/03/25/yoga-meditation-better-ceo-leadership-managing-kawer.html

Manchir, Michelle. “Yoga for prison inmates is no longer a stretch” Chicago Tribune. August 8, 2013. Retrieved from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-08-08/news/ct-met-prison-yoga-20130808_1_yoga-class-yoga-pants-nonprofit-yoga

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