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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: mindfulness san diego


Jill Stoddard

a guest blog repost by Alisa Palioni

Do you often find yourself lying awake at night, staring at your alarm clock as it ticks away the time? Or, do you wake regularly during the night, leaving you feeling as if you haven’t slept at all?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly half the population reports suffering from at least one symptom of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, waking up too early, and waking up feeling unrested).

Many of your daily habits likely play a bigger role in your nightly struggles than you think. Both our ability to fall asleep, and the quality of sleep we have are highly dependent on a variety of external and internal stimuli.

Learning about how each activity impacts your sleep patterns can help you make changes and finally get a good night’s rest.

1. Exercise

Why An Exercise Routine Helps Regulate Sleep

Body heat: Part of the natural changes our circadian rhythm brings about over the day are changes in body temperature.

The rise and fall of our body temperature associated with exercise mimics the natural fluctuations which lead up to sleep.

This can be enough to gently nudge your circadian rhythms back into ideal synchronization if exercise is performed at the right time of day. 1

Beneficial stressor: Exercise is a “beneficial stressor” in that it activates sympathetic nervous system (our flight-or-fight response). Your body compensates by increasing the time spent in deep sleep - leaving you feeling more rested. 

Decrease stress, anxiety and depression: Many of us experience difficulty falling asleep due to ruminating thoughts related to real or perceived stress.

Exercise has been scientifically proven to reduce reactivity to stressors, so that we are better able to manage stressful situations when they come our way.

It has likewise proven itself to be effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. 2

What Kind Of Exercise Should I Do?

When it comes to improving your quality of sleep, aerobic exercise wins. Numerous studies have documented the efficacy of regular aerobic exercise programs for treating chronic insomnia. 

Aerobic exercises (“with oxygen”) include any that involve sustained activity which requires the body to consume large amounts of oxygen, such as walking, swimming and biking.

Whereas, weight training and sprinting are anaerobic exercises. While an important component of a healthy lifestyle, these activities are not effective for promoting sleep. 3

What Time Of Day Should I Exercise?

While fitting in exercise whenever feasible for your lifestyle can go a long way towards improving your sleep, studies have shown that exercising in the late afternoon or early evening has the greatest impact.

The reason for this relates back to how exercise promotes better sleep: In order to take advantage of the drop in body temperature you’ll want to complete your workout approximately 3-5 hours before bedtime.

How Long Should I Exercise?

While exercising for 15-45 minutes daily is the optimal duration; however studies have shown that 150 mins/week is sufficient to see improvements in quality of sleep up to 60%.

2. Diet

Your diet impacts your sleep through more means than just providing calories: What we eat and when we eat it can enhance or inhibit our sleep.

Foods That Inhibit Sleep

While some foods are well known for their ability to interfere with sleep, other dietary staples are equally responsible for keeping you up at night.

1. Coffee: Caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours: which means that 10 hours after drinking your coffee, 25% left in your system; and 20 hours later 12.5% of the caffeine still remains.10

So, while an early afternoon coffee as a post-lunch pick-me-up may seem like a good idea, it might be what is keeping you up at night.

2. Alcohol: Alcohol is a little more tricky in how it affects sleep; because it causes drowsiness many mistakenly believe that a drink can serve as a sleep-aid.

However, research has shown that while alcohol increases slow-wave sleep during the first half of the night, it actually leads to an increase in sleep disruptions during the second half. 4

3. Chocolate: Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can contain high levels of caffeine and thus needs to be treated similarly to coffee and other caffeinated beverages. 

In general try to avoid any kind of sweets in the evening though since it will not only improve your sleep but your overall health as well.

4. Spicy Foods: Capsaicin - the molecule which gives your spicy foods that kick - can causes changes in body temperature that can cause a disturbance in your circadian rhythms if consumed late at night.

5. High-Fat Foods: We all know that certain unhealthy fats negatively impact our health; but there’s also evidence that they may be keeping you up at night.

Animal studies have shown that high-fat diets are associated with more fragmented sleep, along with excessive daytime sleepiness.

Researchers speculate that this may be linked to the neuro-chemical orexin -- which plays an integral role in our sleep-wake cycles. Rats who were fed high-fat diets showed a decrease in orexin-sensitivity. 5

Foods That Promote Sleep

There are many foods that are lauded for their ability to promote a better, more restful sleep. These are the key components you want to be on the lookout for when planning your bedtime snack:

1. Magnesium and potassium: One of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency is insomnia, so you’ll want to load up on healthy sources of this mineral such as leafy greens, beans and lentils, and bananas. 6

Magnesium and potassium promote muscle relaxation, and thus not only help you feel more comfortable but can help deal with nighttime leg cramps.

2. Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino-acid found in both animal and plant proteins. Our bodies use tryptophan to create serotonin -- a neurotransmitter involved in both mood regulation and sleep cycles.15

Many foods are great natural sources of tryptophan, such as milk, bananas, peanut butter and walnuts.

3. B Vitamins: B vitamins are essential for both the synthesis and release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones that are part of the sleep-wake cycle: such as serotonin and melatonin.

Supplements are often prescribed to treat restless-leg-syndrome - a nighttime movement disorder which significantly disrupts sleep.

However, there’s no need to take a supplement. You can get your fill from legumes (chick peas), dark green vegetables, whole grains and fish. 7

4. Theanine: Theanine is yet another useful amino acid when it comes to treating sleep disorders. Research has shown that administering a theanine supplement improves sleep quality and increases sleep efficiency, while decreasing nighttime awakenings.

There is one superfood packed with theanine: Green tea. However, while green tea has significantly less caffeine than a cup of joe, it is recommended to opt for the decaffeinated kind if your goal is a good night’s sleep. 8

5. Melatonin: Melatonin is naturally produced by your pineal gland under direction of your circadian rhythms and is what makes us feel sleepy as we near bedtime.

It usually begins to release around 9 p.m. and remains at a high level for the next 12 hours, throughout the night into the next morning.

While there are certain foods that contain melatonin, you can also purchase this essential sleep-inducing hormone in capsules at your local pharmacy or health food store.

Taken at the right time of day, and in the right dosage, melatonin supplements can help reset your biological clock to optimal levels and is often used as a natural treatment for sleep disorders.19

However, you don’t need to take supplements: simply add tart fruits, like cherries and pineapples, to your diet. Oats, walnuts and bananas are likewise great natural sources of melatonin.

Here are some more foods that will help you to sleep better.

via    Well+Good

Timing Your Meals

It’s not just what you eat, when you eat also counts.

Research at Yale’s School of Medicine has revealed just how vital the timing of our meals is to maintaining optimal circadian rhythms.

For instance, when we wake in the morning and our central clock is being stimulated by the light of day, but we decide to skip breakfast we have just given our body conflicting information that can in turn disrupt our circadian rhythms. 9

The main takeaway from this study and similar research is that you should not be eating close to your intended bedtime; but the recommendations for how long before bed you should refrain from eating vary: some saying not to eat after 7 pm, while others suggest 5 hours before lights-out and still others indicate a minimum of 12 hours before you eat breakfast. 

It’s also recommended to reserve large meals for the first half of your day, and consuming lighter snacks in the evening.

3. Environment

Mattress & Pillows

When it comes to choosing a mattress and pillows, there’s no universal rule for everyone to follow. Whether you should opt for firm or soft, memory foam or pocket coil all depends on your personal preferences, particularly the position you sleep in.

Back SleepersSleeping on your back is often the sleep position recommended by doctors, since it allows the body to lay relatively straight.

However, that does not mean there is no pressure being put on your spine as you sleep.

You should have a mattress which is both able to support the spine -- and not allow the exaggeration of any curves -- but is also plush enough to not cause painful compression.

  • Opt for a medium to firm mattress
  • Memory foam is more ideal since conforms to natural curves while maintaining support
  • May substitute for a pocket coil with pillow top.

Side Sleepers: Sleeping on your side has its own benefits: It can help reduce acid reflux, reduces the pressure on the lungs, and promotes better blood circulation.

The main complaints of side-sleepers are achiness in the shoulder and hip area. The way to circumvent this is to ensure your mattress adequately cradles these parts.

  • Medium to soft mattress
  • Memory foam is ideal for reducing number of pressure points

Front Sleepers: Sleeping on your front is by far the worst for your health: Not only does it put pressure on your stomach, but the spine is the least supported in this position.

While it is recommended you switch sleeping positions, there are certain considerations when choosing a mattress that can help alleviate some of the negative side-effects.

Opt for a firmer mattressPocket-coil mattresses are a big no-no, as the entire front side of your body is exposed to the pressure points and they will not support your spine.

Bed Sharing

There’s no doubt that sharing beds can add to your difficulty getting a good night’s sleep.

It’s unlikely that both people with have identical wants and needs when it comes to their sleep position and mattress preferences; and when one partner is uncomfortable their tossing and turning can quickly cause problems for the other.

Upsize to a Queen: A Full-sized bed will leave you and your partner with only 27 inches of space -- which amounts to the size of a baby’s crib.

Opt for memory foam, or ditch your box spring: While memory foam is the optimal choice for reducing the transfer for movements, replacing your box spring with slats can serve as a quick fix.

Invest in a mattress designed for couples: The Sleep Number mattress let’s you and your partner select your ideal level of firmness, comfort and support so you don’t have to compromise.23


Research has shown that people who sleep in blue rooms tend to sleep longer than when compared to other colors. Blue toned walls can serve as yet another signal telling your brain it’s time to sleep.24

It’s important that your bedroom makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. It’s less important to follow a strict guide than to follow your own intuition.


Light is one of the most powerful cues for your body’s internal clock, it’s thus important to ensure that you are exposing yourself to light and dark during the optimal times.

Try to keep your bedroom as dark as possible while you sleep by using black-out curtains.

However, lighting is not just important when you are sleeping. It’s recommended to dim the lights one hour before heading to bed to cue your brain it’s time for sleep.

For this reason it’s also best not to stare at bright screens (TVs, computers, and smartphones) during this time period, although many phones do offer a “night-mode” setting that can help.

In fact, the blue light -- in the 460-nanometer range -- emitted by electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs has been shown to delay the release of melatonin.25


Generally speaking, the optimal temperature for sleep is between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5-19 degrees Celsius).

This, yet again, links back to the natural changes that occur as part of your circadian rhythms: your body temperature drops during the night, and thus maintaining a cooler room will help maintain this.

Setting your thermostat far below or above this ideal point can make it more difficult to fall asleep, lead restlessness and even affect the time you spend in REM sleep.26

The material of your mattress, pillows, bed linens and pajamas can significantly impact your temperature while sleeping. Look for fabrics that are breathable and won’t trap heat such as cotton; likewise choose pillows made of natural materials over synthetic.

As for mattresses, memory foam is the best option when it comes to temperature control.


Your brain continues to register noises while you sleep, which although unknown to you may be causing you to toss-and-turn or wake briefly.

It’s more likely for a noise to wake you up while in stages 1 and 2 of sleep, than while in 3 and 4. Additionally noise tends to cause more sleep disruptions in the second half of the night.

There’s also evidence that you’re more likely to respond to a sound while sleeping if it is emotionally significant to you: Such as when a mother hears her baby crying.27

If noises outside of your control are keeping you up at night, white noise can be used to “drown” them out. White noise works by reducing the difference between the ambient noise and a sudden, “peak” sound -- like a toilet being flushed -- lowering the chances your sleep will be disturbed.

There are many white noise generators you can purchase, and now there are even phone apps that can do the trick. However, a simple fan or air purifier may be sufficient to help you sleep through the night.

4. Meditation

Fifty percent of people who experience difficulty sleeping blame stress and worry for their troubles.

Meditation, in relieving feelings of stress and anxiety, and - over time - improving our overall response to stressful situations, has been proven to improve both the duration and quality of sleep, with the effect increasing with prolonged practice.

Researchers at the Stanford Medical Center conducted a pilot study to investigate the effectiveness of meditation in treating insomnia. 10

Following a six-week mindfulness meditation training program, 60% of the participants no longer fit the qualifications for the diagnosis - falling asleep twice as quickly as they had previously.

A 12-month follow-up revealed that the majority of the benefits were long lasting.28 Similarly, experienced meditators show enhancement in both REM and non-REM sleep; as well as experiencing fewer awakenings when transitioning between cycles. 11

Meditating at any time of day helps to reduce stress and improve sleep; however, incorporating meditation into your bedtime routine can be especially effective in preparing your body and mind for sleep.

5. Structuring Your Bedtime Routine

Sleep is a behavior: You can teach yourself to sleep well, but you can equally teach yourself to sleep poorly. Our habits surrounding our bedroom routines have a much more significant impact on the quality of our sleep than many of us believe.

Children often have bedtime routines to encourage the onset of sleep, but this is just as important for adults.

Our body needs time to adjust and cool down after a busy day: Just as sleep inertia affects our ability to feel alert after being abruptly roused from a nap we need to allow our body and mind time to transition into a state of relaxation and finally sleep.

When structuring your bedtime routine the main goal is to reinforce your natural circadian rhythms. By developing a scheduled routine of activities at bedtime we can form habits that promote sleep, while avoiding those that impede it.

General Guidelines:

  • Follow a scheduled pre-sleep routine
  • Avoid stimulating activities and all screens for 30-60 minutes before bedtime
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and intimacy
  • Get rid of your alarm cloc


Maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule (even on weekends): While it may seem like a treat to sleep in way past your usual waking time on the weekends, altering your sleep-wake schedule for just one night is sufficient to cause disruptions in your circadian rhythms that will affect you for days following.

Choose a favorite relaxing activity to wind down: Close off your day with a period of relaxation by incorporating one of your favorite calming activities into your bedtime routine.

Choose what works for you -- while one person may find reading relaxing, if you aren’t a bookworm yourself this will be counterproductive.

Some suggestions include:

  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Stretching (yoga)
  • Meditating

Prepare your room for sleep:

  • Dim the lights
  • Lower the temperature

Make your bed: A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that making your bed may be more than just a morning nuisance.

Those who reported they made their bed every morning had a 19% higher chance of getting a good night’s sleep than those who skipped this chore.

While the reason behind this is still unknown, researchers speculate that it’s related to feeling good about where you sleep.

Decluttering and maintaining a tidy bedroom can go a long way towards promoting better, more restful sleep.31

6. Tools And Resources

Nowadays there are many helpful tools to help you sleep better available at the click of a mouse -- or the swipe of a finger.

Sleep Cycle

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock will revolutionize the way you wake up. This innovative app actually tracks your sleep patterns, and uses this information to gently rouse you when you’re in a light stage of sleep -- preventing sleep inertia.

The app achieves this by monitoring your movements throughout the night, as these vary depending on what stage of sleep you’re in.

There are two modes: Either using your phone’s microphone which “hears” your movements, or the accelerometer, which is placed on your mattress to detect your movements throughout the night.

At only $0.99 on iTunes it’s a small price to pay for waking up feeling refreshed.


F.lux began as a software which adapts the colors of your computer’s display for different times of the day: Not only optimizing your viewing experience, but reducing your exposure to blue light - which inhibits the release of melatonin, a hormone essential for sleep.

While the app is still under construction, there are plenty of similar ones to choose from on iTunes and Google Play Store, so you can enjoy your devices in the evening without disrupting your sleep.

For iOS you can also use the built-in Nightshift mode to adjust white balance of your screen based on time of day.

White Noise

White Noise by TM Soft allows you to choose from a library of sound loops including beach waves, air conditioner and running water.

The app comes in three versions: Free, Full and Pro; with even the freebie coming with 40 sound loops as well as additional alarm sounds.

Whether you are looking for a way to drown out nighttime noise disturbances, or need a substitute for your favorite fan while traveling, White Noise’s variety will suit any preference.


For those interested in experiencing how meditation can transform your sleep, Headspace is a great place to start.

With short guided meditations readily available on both desktop and mobile devices Headspace makes it easy to incorporate meditation into your bedtime routine.

You can try their Take 10 program for free, or choose from a variety of subscription options to get started today.


While lying awake at night staring at your alarm clock waiting for sleep to come may make you feel powerless, there are a lot of concrete actions you can take to conquer your sleeping problems once and for all.

It’s not necessary to undergo a total life overhaul in order to enhance the quality of your sleep. Start by experimenting with the tips that are most appealing to you and see how they impact your sleep.

Keeping a journal can help you track what works and what doesn’t. Once you’ve felt the effects of a good night’s sleep you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

Originally posted on

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

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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. 

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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…


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


12 Signs you lack healthy boundaries (and why you need them). (2015).  Harley Therapy Counselling Blog. Retrieved from

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

Lancer, D. (2015). What are personal boundaries? How do I get some?. Psych Central. Retrieved from

Stgar, W. (2010). The importance of boundaries. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

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.

Pursuing Values over Resolutions in the New Year

Jill Stoddard

by Jan E. Estrellado, Ph.D.


2016 has arrived!  As we say good-bye to 2015, it’s time to look forward to setting intentions for the new year.  Knowing that resolutions don’t always work out, what if we tried basing those intentions on our values rather than on our goals?

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The Problem with Resolutions

It seems that while many people make resolutions every year, only a few are able to maintain those changes.  According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute (2015), 45% of people in the U.S. make resolutions, but only 8% of people successfully achieve them.  In 2015, the top three resolutions for the new year were losing weight, getting organized, and spending less/saving more.

Why might it be so hard for us to accomplish the resolutions we set so hopefully at the beginning of each year?  And perhaps more importantly, how do we deal with and recover from the guilt, anxiety, stress, and embarrassment that often come when we fail to meet these goals?

For some helpful answers, we might look to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based intervention that, in the words of Happiness Trap author Russ Harris (2008), “helps people create a rich and meaningful life, while effectively handling the pain and stress that life inevitably brings.” 

According to ACT (pronounced as one word), it is the struggle with “what’s wrong” in our lives that causes much of our suffering.  We’ve all been there: the slice of chocolate cake we couldn’t resist, the day we chose to stay home instead of going to the gym, or spending more than we wanted to eating out.  It is normal to feel ashamed, guilty, or frustrated with ourselves, often accompanied by thoughts of self-judgment and doubt (i.e., I have no self-control, I was doomed to fail from the start, etc.).  It is so easy to spend time and energy beating ourselves up for what we should have done, that we end up in a worse place than when we started.  How many of us have eaten that second slice of chocolate cake to soothe our guilt about eating the first one? 

Values-Based Living

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In contrast to resolutions, values are never finished.  Think of values as the direction you are headed in (“westward”) versus a destination west of you (“Hawai’i”).  One can continue on in that direction indefinitely and it will never be done.  It is a series of choices we make over and over again to carve out a path in the direction of that value. 

What might values-based living look like as an alternative to New Year’s resolutions?  Let’s take the #1 resolution of 2015: losing weight.  Why might losing weight be important to you? Do you want to feel good in your body, to invest in your physical health, to live longer for your family or to model healthy behaviors to your children?  Clarifying why we choose a goal might be more important than the goal itself.  For example, if I want to live long enough to see my kids grow up, my choices might focus more on being active with my kids and less on counting calories.  I may or may not lose weight, but keeping my choices and behaviors aligned with my greater value moves me toward the person I would like to be.

Acting in service of our values does not mean that the path will be easy or comfortable.  In fact, choosing our values means that we also choose the pain that will inevitably come.  Living from our values means we accept that painful and unwanted outcomes sometimes happen. Staying the values-based course as the painful stuff happens is what gives us meaning and purpose.

Are you willing to give values a try this year?

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 a chronic medical illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at


Statistics Brain Research Institute (2015).  New years resolution statistics.  Retrieved from

Harris, R. (2008).  What is acceptance and commitment therapy?  Retrieved from

Emotion Regulation: The Key to Emotional Health

Jill Stoddard

Despite the fact that emotions are an integral part of our life experience, it may not be often that we ask ourselves: What are our emotions? Why do we have them? What is the best way to manage them? Read our blog for more information about emotion regulation and its connection to emotional well-being.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Mindfulness & Cancer

Jill Stoddard

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Written by Lauren Helm, M.A., B.C.B.


Cancer is incredibly common, and often leads to many difficult and frightening life changes. Studies have found that moderate to severe psychological distress occurs in 35-45% of all cancer patients (Carlson et al., 2004; Spiegel, 1996; Zabora, BrintzenhofeSzoc, Curbow, Hooker, & Piantadosi, 2001). Cancer is the most distressing diagnosis regardless of prognosis (Tacon & McComb, 2009), and anxiety can last even after treatment has been completed. Research has identified that cancer may lead to distress because of multiple factors, including the anticipation of suffering, and difficult treatment regimens (such as surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy). Some individuals experience great difficulty in coping with the life changes that cancer can bring about; in particular, the potential uncertainty and uncontrollability of illness is often formidable and distressing (Carlson, Ursuliak, Goodey, Angen, & Speca, 2001).  Additionally, when an individual is diagnosed with cancer, her quality of life may be profoundly impacted, and she may experience increases in stress, anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and nausea. The impact on one’s quality of life is not always easily “cured” by traditional Western medicine approaches. This is why some individuals with cancer also pursue supportive and complementary therapies, along with conventional medicine.




Some examples of supportive and complementary therapies for cancer patients include: support groups, interpersonal therapy, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, hypnosis, massage, relaxation training, and mindfulness. When these therapies are used in conjunction with conventional medicine, studies have found that they may reduce stress, anxiety, depression, improve indicators of immune functioning, strengthen spirituality/religion, and improve coping skills, among other possible benefits.


Mindfulness is a potentially powerful tool that has been found to have a beneficial impact on the quality of life of individuals who are diagnosed with cancer. Mindfulness has been defined in many ways, but may be thought of as a “particular way of paying attention,” or “moment to moment” awareness where one adopts a non-judgmental, compassionate attitude towards one’s experience of the present moment. A mindful stance can be practiced by learning to accept, instead of resist or react to one’s thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations as they arise. It is all about changing the relationship to one’s thoughts and emotions so that a sense of equanimity is eventually achieved, even in the face of pain or distress (read more about mindfulness here).


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Mindfulness has been embraced by patients and behavioral medicine practitioners alike (Baer, 2003; Bishop, 2002), in large part because of the positive physical and psychological changes that tend to result from the regular practice of mindfulness. A substantial body of empirical evidence supports the use of mindfulness with cancer patients (Carlson & Garland, 2005; Carlson, Speca, Patel, & Goodey, 2003; Carlson, Speca, Patel, & Goodey, 2004; Carlson et al., 2001; Speca, Carlson, Goodey, & Angen, 2000). Most of the literature supporting the use of mindfulness with cancer patients has examined Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs (a program developed by Dr. Jon-Kabat Zinn for those with chronic illness or pain that teaches patients how to practice mindfulness) since they are more frequently available in medical settings. Mindfulness has also been integrated into other psychological treatments , including Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (created by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale to help prevent relapse for those with depression), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (created by Dr. Marsha Linehan in order to treat those with borderline personality disorder), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (developed by Dr. Steven Hayes and Dr. Kelly Wilson and is often used for those with anxiety – indeed, this evidence-based treatment is offered by therapists at CSAM!). Mindfulness is applicable for a wide range of problems.


Some of the benefits of mindfulness training may include:

  • Improved general quality of life (Ledesma & Kumano, 2008)
  • Improved markers of physical health (Ledesma & Kumano, 2008)
  • Reduced anxiety and depression for patients, partners, and survivors (Ledesma & Kumano, 2008; Lengacher, Johnson-Mallard, Post-White, Moscoso, Jacobsen, Klein, Widen, Fitzgerald, Shelton, Barta, Goodman, Cox & Kip, 2009)
  • Improved sleep (Carlson & Garland, 2005)
  • Increased feelings of control, openness, personal growth, and spirituality and reduced feelings of isolation (Mackenzie, Carlson, Munoz, & Speca, 2007)
  • Improved psychological health


Mackenzie, Carlson, Munoz, and Speca (2007) found that cancer patients who underwent mindfulness training through an MBSR program reported five major themes:

  • Opening to change: Changes in how they think about and cope w/cancer and treatment
  • Self-control:
    • An improved control of attention and behaviors, including a reduction of reactivity to stressors and learning when to take action vs. when to let go
    • An improved physical and mental self-regulation and self-discipline
    • Living better with cancer
  • Shared experience:
    • Social support and camaraderie (sharing and listening; development of close and unique relationships; sense of community)
    • Reduced feelings of isolation, especially with cancer diagnosis
    • Instillation of hope (surrounded by other cancer survivors)
    • Improved coping skills (group problem solving, discovery of solutions together)
    • Meditation practice was reinforced
  • Personal growth: 
    • Mindfulness provided comfort, meaning, and direction
    • Mindfulness increased willingness to learn from difficult life experiences, such as cancer
    • Shifting from negative to positive mindset; seeing cancer as a motivator to live a full life
    • “The way I look at cancer is that once you get through the awfulness it’s a very powerful motivator to live your life. I’m grateful I can come up here and be reminded of that.”
  • Spirituality:
    • Exploration of spirituality (though a common theme that arose during interviews with study participants, though MBSR is secular)


In sum, the benefits of mindfulness are many, and can be potentially useful for those who suffer from cancer. If you or a loved one needs additional help in coping with the distress that cancer can bring, it may be worthwhile to learn more about additional resources that are available. Check out some of the resources below, or contact a qualified professional.




Breast Cancer Resources

Create an early detection plan

Beyond the Shock

Anxiety and Breast Cancer

Tips on How to Combat Anxiety


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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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.”


Axel, Gabriel. “Your Brain on Yoga: A Blueprint for Transformation”. U.S. News and World Report. September 4, 2013. Retreived from:

Chan, Amanda. “Yoga For Carefivers: Meditation May Lower Depression, Improve Brain Functioning In Dementia Caregivers”. March 13, 2012. Retreived from:

Kawer, Stanton. “Yoga Made Me a Better CEO”. March 25th, 2011. Retrieved from:

Manchir, Michelle. “Yoga for prison inmates is no longer a stretch” Chicago Tribune. August 8, 2013. Retrieved from:

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