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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: depression

Mental Health Awareness Month: Fitness #4Mind4Body

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Every year, Mental Health America designates a particular theme for the month to highlight an important aspect of mental health. This year’s theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it focuses on acknowledging the connection between mental and physical wellbeing. #4Mind4Body explores the role of nutrition, exercise, the gut-brain connection, sleep, and stress in our overall wellbeing and examines the ways each of these areas impact our functioning. Below is a summary of the topics covered in the Mental Health Toolkit from Mental Health America.

Diet and Nutrition

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Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an integral part of health. Diets high in processed, fried, and sugary foods can increase the risk not only for developing physical health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer, but are also linked to mental health problems, including increased risk for depression symptoms. A healthy diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil. Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet is linked with a lower risk for depression and even an improvement in depression symptoms.

Exercise

Regular exercise not only helps control weight, increase strength, and reduce the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, but it also helps boost endorphins and serotonin, among other important proteins and neurotransmitters that impact mental health. Endorphins serve to mitigate pain in the face of stress and increase pleasure in the body. Serotonin affects appetite, sleep, and mood, and is the target of SSRIs, a class of antidepressant commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. Just thirty minutes of exercise per day can help improve mood and mental health.

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The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut, also known as the “second brain,” communicates directly with the brain via the vagus nerve and via hormones and neurotransmitters. The communication goes both ways, so anxiety, stress, and depression can impact the gut and result in gastrointestinal symptoms, but changes in the gut microbiome can impact the brain and mood, exacerbating or even resulting in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eating a nutritious diet that includes prebiotics and probiotics is an important part of maintaining a healthy gut and a healthy mind. 

Sleep

Quality of sleep impacts the immune system, metabolism, appetite, the ability to learn and make new memories, and mood. Good sleep for adults means getting between 7-9 hours of mostly uninterrupted sleep per night. Problems with getting good quality sleep can increase the risk of developing mental health symptoms, and symptoms of anxiety and depression can negatively impact sleep, creating a negative cycle. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) can help clients reestablish healthy sleep patterns through addressing negative thoughts and worries as well as behavioral patterns that are impacting sleep habits.

Stress

Stress is a normal part of life, and the body is equipped with a fight or flight response designed to help mobilize internal resources to manage stressors. After the stress has passed, the body can return to its regular equilibrium state. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can cause inflammation, impaired immune system functioning, muscle aches, gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, changes in appetite, and increased risk for heart disease. Too much stress can also impact mental health.

Mental health involves a complex interplay between numerous factors, including but certainly not limited to the areas listed above. Furthermore, though maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise routine, good sleep habits, and utilizing stress management techniques can help prevent or improve existing mental health symptoms, if you are struggling with mental health issues, it can be difficult to attend to these areas.

If you are struggling with anxiety, stress management, depression, chronic illness, or insomnia, seeking professional assistance can be helpful. Evidence based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help to address problematic thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to emotional distress. Therapy offers a warm, supportive, safe environment to explore painful issues. A therapist can also provide support in helping the client to develop good self-care habits, like those mentioned above.

This year’s mental health awareness theme reminds us of the importance of recognizing the multiple avenues through which we can approach mental health, and the variety of tools we have at our disposal to improve overall wellbeing.

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

Mental Health America. (2018). 2018 Mental Health Month Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/sites/default/files/Full_2018_MHM_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf

Finding the Right Therapist for You

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Therapy can be incredibly helpful and healing in the midst of struggle, but it’s not “one size fits all” and sometimes it can be challenging to find the right fit. If you have tried therapy before and been frustrated by a lack of progress, it’s possible you haven’t found the right therapist for you. Having some knowledge about therapy and the different options available can help when you are seeking out help.

What do therapists do?

A therapist’s role is to provide you with empathy, help you learn healthy coping methods and give you tools to manage your emotions constructively. They are there to help you connect with your personal values and get in touch with your own internal strength, while offering you compassionate support and understanding along the way. They are like “training wheels” to help you learn to engage in life in a new way.

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What don’t therapists do?

They are not there to pass judgement, minimize your feelings, or offer you advice. No advice means that they are not there to make decisions for you, such as whether or not to stay in a relationship or a job; they can, however, assign you homework to help you make progress and teach you coping mechanisms.

If you ever feel judged or like your therapist is minimizing your feelings, discuss this with them. This will allow you to discern whether you misunderstood their message or whether maybe they are not the best fit for you. It is important to talk with your therapist about the therapeutic process itself, especially if something feels off.

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Note: therapy can be helpful and it can be hard.

Therapy is challenging. It requires active work on the part of the client and it requires facing uncomfortable and painful emotions, and likely making difficult changes. As James Hollis (1998) notes, “no one enters the therapist’s office whose adaptive strategies are still working.” So sometimes, clients may feel worse before they feel better because change is inherently uncomfortable. This kind of “feeling worse” is a vital part of the growth process, not a further descent into the same struggle that brought you into the office.

If it feels like you have tried various therapies or therapists, and have not progressed despite your commitment to finding help and engaging in the therapeutic process, you may not have found the right therapist yet. Here are some things to look for when seeking therapy.

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  1. Connection with the therapist. Therapy requires that you let another person in on your innermost thoughts and feelings. This is not an easy thing to do, so it is important that you feel comfortable with the person you choose. Research shows that the therapeutic relationship itself is the most important aspect of therapy – accounting for about 30% of the variance in treatment outcome, which is more than any other factor including the technique the therapist uses. So make sure that the therapist you choose to see is someone you trust and whom you are willing to talk to. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit, it probably won’t be.
     
  2. The therapist’s areas of expertise. While the relationship is the most important piece of therapy, specialization and technique are still very important pieces of the puzzle. When looking for a therapist, make sure to search for someone who has experience working with individuals dealing with your particular concerns. Otherwise, you may end up wasting time and money working with someone who might not conduct a proper assessment, or who does not have experience working with your particular issue. Ask them about their experience working with others who have concerns similar to yours, including the techniques they use and the degree of progress and healing that they typically see in their clients.
     
  3. Evidence based treatments. There are lots of different treatment options out there; a good place to start is searching for a therapist with true training in modalities that are supported by solid research (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Ask questions about their training and choice treatment modalities, what a typical session will look like, how your individual needs will be addressed, whether you will receive homework, what will be required of you in the process, how your progress will be evaluated, and what steps will your therapist take if they find that your progress has prematurely plateaued.

If you are struggling and considering reaching out for help, this knowledge can help you navigate choosing a therapist and can help you recognize sooner rather than later if it’s not the right fit. If you have tried therapy before and have been frustrated by a lack of progress, you are not alone. Remember, effective help is available when you know what to look for.

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: 

Hollis, J. (1998). The eden project: In search of the magical other. Toronto, ON: Inner City Books.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Since 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Given that 20% of U.S. adults will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, having conversations about mental health and the resources available for those who are struggling is incredibly important.

Risky Business

This year’s mental health theme focuses on “Risky Business.” Mental Health America is working to start a conversation around risky behaviors that may increase the chance of developing mental illness or that may accompany an existing mental health issue. The specific behaviors they are focusing on are: marijuana use, risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, compulsive buying, and exercise extremes.

Our State of Mind Impacts Our Emotions and Our Behavior

It’s important to understand that mental illness consists not only of difficult emotions, but also includes behavior changes or an impairment of functioning in day to day life. Such behavior changes can manifest as either avoidance of certain situations and/or engaging in new behaviors to attempt to numb or escape the pain that accompanies the mental health problem. Neither avoidance nor risky/numbing behaviors will resolve the mental health concern; they provide short term relief, but actually serve to maintain and worsen the situation in the long run.

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Evidence Based Therapy

If you are concerned that you are struggling with a mental health problem or if you are overwhelmed with feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression and aren’t sure how to cope, seeking professional help can be a good place to start. A therapist can offer support and help you to work through those things that you are struggling with. He or she can also help you address any behaviors that may be impairing your ability to function in life, work, or your relationships.

Evidence based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy have been scientifically demonstrated to effectively treat anxiety, depression, and many other emotional and physical difficulties.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves helping clients learn to identify and modify unhealthy, unhelpful, or inaccurate thoughts and unhealthy or unhelpful behaviors that serve to maintain emotional difficulties. Gradual, repeated exposures to feared situations also help clients learn to face that which they may have avoided previously. CBT challenges clients to face difficulty in the context of a warm, safe, therapeutic environment.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) also involves reducing experiential avoidance behaviors, but differs from CBT in that it focuses on accepting difficult thoughts and feelings in order to live a meaningful, values-based life. ACT challenges clients to embrace difficulty in the context of a warm, safe, therapeutic environment.

The Human Condition

Whether or not you find yourself in the 1 of 5 adults struggling with mental health, all of us will face pain, difficulty, and struggle at some point or another. Asking for help in the midst of struggle is a sign of strength, not weakness. One of the beautiful things about suffering is that it can lead to connection when we let those we trust in on our pain. While it can be tempting to turn to those risky behaviors listed above, we only exacerbate our problems by doing so. In turning to a trusted loved one or a professional, we can begin to find meaning and healing in the midst of pain and suffering.

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.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Cognitive Distortions

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Whether you recognize the term or not, at some point you have dealt with a cognitive distortion. These are thoughts that feel like the truth, but they describe an emotional reality rather than an objective one. For those struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, often chronic and significant cognitive distortions play a big role in the struggle.

Dr. David Burns (1980) outlined 12 of the most common cognitive distortions in his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Dr. Burns’ list is adapted below with examples. As you read through the list, see if you recognize examples of any of these distortions in your life.

1. All-Or-Nothing (Black and White) Thinking: You see things in black and white terms, refusing to see any gray area.
Distortion: If I’m not nice to everyone all the time, I’m a jerk.
Reframe: I’m allowed to be assertive and set boundaries. I don’t have to be nice to someone who is being disrespectful to me. Standing up for myself doesn’t make me a jerk.

2. Overgeneralization: You see one or several negative events as a sign of an endless pattern of defeat.
Distortion: I got a bad grade on this math test, so I will never get a good grade on a math test.
Reframe: I got a bad grade on this math test. Maybe I didn’t understand the material or studied wrong. I will talk to my teacher to better understand my mistakes, and hopefully I will do better next time.

3. Mental Filter: You exclusively notice the negative aspects of a situation and magnify them out of proportion. At the same time, you filter out/fail to notice the positive aspects.
Distortion: My presentation went terribly. I lost my train of thought because I got nervous, and I forgot a key point I wanted to make.
Reframe: I stumbled over my words a little bit, but no one besides me seemed to notice. I also forgot a key point I wanted to make. But I got good feedback and everyone seemed engaged during my presentation. Next time I will practice a little bit more, but overall it went pretty well.

4. Minimizing/Disqualifying/Overlooking the Positive: You turn positive experiences or comments into negative ones by deciding that they don’t count for some reason. You overlook positive things about yourself or your environment. You don’t just filter out positive things; you actually turn them into negatives.
Distortion: He only invited me to come to his party because he feels sorry for me and knows I’m a loner.
Reframe: He invited me to come to his party because he wants me to come.

5. Mind Reading: You assume that someone is thinking or reacting negatively to you even though you do not know what they’re thinking.
Distortion: She didn’t wave at me because she doesn’t like me.
Reframe: She didn’t wave at me. She probably didn’t see me, or maybe she had something on her mind.

6. Fortune Telling: You think that something bad is going to happen even though you do not yet know what the outcome will be. This causes you to worry, overreact, or give up too soon.
Distortion: Even though things are going well now, I think he will eventually break up with me and I am afraid I will get hurt. Maybe I should just break up with him now to avoid getting hurt.
Reframe: Things are going well now. I’m not sure what will happen in the future. But for now I will try to be present and enjoy what is.

7. Magnifying/Catastrophizing: You exaggerate the importance of something, or you imagine that something that might happen would be terrible or earth shattering, when it would not actually be as bad as you imagine or you could cope despite it being difficult.
Distortion: I can’t accept the promotion because then I will have to give presentations. I’m terrified of public speaking, and I will get too scared and embarrass myself in front of everyone and then probably lose the job anyway.
Reframe: If I accept the promotion, I will have to give presentations. Lots of people are scared of public speaking. I might make a mistake and I might feel embarrassed or scared, but that’s part of being human. It won’t be the end of the world.

8. Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your feelings reflect the truth, even though your feelings are based on erroneous thinking.
Distortion: I feel like a failure, which means I am a failure.
Reframe: I may feel like a failure right now because I am still looking for a job, but job hunting takes time. I am not a failure.

9. Should Statements: You have a list of rules set in stone about how you or others “should” behave, but these rules are arbitrary or unrealistic. You feel guilty or inadequate when you “break” a rule, or get angry or frustrated when others do so.
Distortion: I should have enough time and energy after work to play with the kids. I feel guilty if I let them watch TV while I finish up some work instead, and I feel frustrated with my spouse when he/she does the same. 
Reframe: I want to have enough time and energy after work to play with the kids. But sometimes I will be too busy or tired. I will do my best to spend quality time with them, even if sometimes that means cuddling on the couch watching TV while I finish up some emails. On those nights when I really can’t find the time, I will give myself (and my spouse) grace.

10. Labeling: When someone makes a mistake, you don’t objectively evaluate the mistake. Instead you label the person – “I’m a failure” or “They’re an idiot.”
Distortion: He forgot to lift the toilet seat again! He is so inconsiderate. Or I forgot my kids had a half day today. I’m a terrible parent!
Reframe: He forgot to lift the toilet seat again. He must have had something else on his mind. Or I forgot my kids had a half day today. Today was really busy and I had too much on my mind. Maybe I need to write down half days on my calendar from now on.

11. Personalization: You think that things that others do or things that happen to you are personalized reactions to you, even if this is not the case.
Distortion: My friend didn’t return my text because she thinks I’m annoying.
Reframe: My friend didn’t return my text. Maybe she is really busy or has something going on in her life I don’t know about. Sometimes I forget to return texts too.

12. Probability Overestimation: You overestimate the likelihood of something bad happening.
Distortion: If I drive, I will get in a car accident, so I am not going to get my driver’s license.
Reframe: Accidents can happen anytime, but the odds are not high. Most people drive every day and nothing bad happens.

Cognitive distortions are not constructive, but experiencing a distortion every now and again is simply part of being human. However, when you are not able to reframe your distortions, or when cognitive distortions begin driving your behavior, they can become a problem.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works to help clients notice, address, and alter these destructive thoughts. When you believe your own destructive thoughts, you may also tend to avoid certain situations on the basis of a false belief. CBT also works to help clients slowly learn to approach rather than avoid such situations. Having a warm, empathic therapist come alongside you throughout this process is healing. She can model compassion for you, helping you learn to have compassion for yourself, while still challenging you to see things in a new and healthier way.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by cognitive distortions, stress, anxiety, and/or depression, you do not have to struggle alone.

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.

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 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