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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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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

Most Americans Are Stressed About the Future of Our Nation

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Have you found yourself feeling especially anxious or stressed out in the current political climate? You’re not alone. This particular election and transition of power is unique for many reasons, not least of which is the widespread stress it is creating in Americans across the political spectrum.

According to the American Psychological Association’s most recent Stress in America survey, two-thirds of Americans report feeling stress regarding the future of our nation.

This stress is bipartisan.

Prior to the election, stress may have been divided more along party lines. Back in August, Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs 26 percent) to feel stress regarding the outcome of the presidential election. However, according to the most recent study conducted in January, 59 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats reported that the future of the nation was a significant source of stress.

Overall stress levels have increased since the election.

In the ten years since the inception of the Stress in America survey, Americans’ stress levels had been gradually decreasing. However, between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans’ average reported stress level increased from 4.8 to 5.1, on a scale where 1 represents no stress and 10 represents enormous stress. This was the first statistically significant increase in stress since the survey began 10 years ago.

We are not the first cohort to feel stressed about the future of our country.

It is important to remember that this APA survey has only been conducted for the last decade, and to keep in perspective that our country has been through numerous tumultuous and stressful times. We are not the first group of citizens to be very stressed and concerned for America’s future. History shows us that we have inevitably and cyclically encountered dark times as a nation, and that hopefully, after each struggle, we emerge stronger and maybe a little bit wiser and more just.

However, currently we are very much in the midst of the anxiety and uncertainty. We are deeply stressed, and we are not alone in that experience. There is comfort to be found in the “me too,” but it is also important that together we learn to find balance during this time.

How do we manage our stress?

Engaging in democracy.

One of the beautiful things about our country is that we are part of a democracy, where we are empowered to use our voices to speak up regarding those things that do concern us. In order to properly voice our concerns, it is important that we use our access to information to stay informed about what is going on. (However, we must also recognize when we need to disconnect. More on the importance of limiting our information intake below).

One way to try to assuage the stress we feel is to use it as fuel for action. We can spend a few minutes calling our local representatives and communicating our concerns. We can get involved volunteering for or donating to an organization whose efforts are in line with our values. We can participate in protests or marches to literally stand up for the things that are important to us. There is something very empowering about engaging in community and collective action with other Americans who share our views.

Regardless of our political views and beliefs, our stress seems to be collective. The details of our concerns may differ, but we all have the opportunity to use our voices and engage in the future of the nation.

Finding a balance between staying engaged and allowing ourselves to disconnect.

However, as much as it is important to stay engaged, we must also recognize the limits as to what we can do to help foster change. When we come together, we are strong. But individually, we cannot carry the weight of the nation on our shoulders. And as we work to remain informed, it is also important that we allow ourselves the time and space away from news.

Limiting technology and news consumption.

Between all of our technological devices, 24-hour news cycles, and politically saturated Facebook news feeds, we could allow our eyes and minds to be occupied all day long by the constant, stress-inducing updates. We need to limit our news consumption in order to allow our minds and bodies to rest. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the news will leave us feeling powerless.

Practicing self-care.

Maybe the most important thing that we can do at this time of great national stress is to take care of ourselves. Self-care is vital to our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. And if you have felt that your nation (or perhaps its commander in chief) has failed to care for you, or sent you the message that you are unworthy of care, maybe your greatest act of protest and defiance will be to choose to take care of yourself in spite of this.

Self-care will not fix the national situation, of course. However, wouldn’t it be powerful to have a nation filled with citizens who know how to care for their own well-being, and as a result they have the energy to stay engaged in their democracy?

How can we practice self-care?

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Good self-care is unique to each individual. What is relaxing and healing for one person may not be as helpful to another. It’s important to pay attention to those things, those rituals, that calm and center us. That signal to our psyche a time of rest or peace. Here are some ideas to help inspire you:

  1. Set aside some time to walk each day and focus on breathing the fresh air in your lungs and feeling the ground under your feet with each step.
  2. Practice yoga.
  3. Find a mindfulness meditation to practice every day. This doesn’t have to take more than five minutes. Check out this link for some suggestions: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations
  4. Not a fan of meditation? Try focusing on your breathing. Take a minute to practice some mindful breaths. Check out our blog post on breathing for some tips: http://www.anxietytherapysandiego.com/blog/2016/6/8/the-power-of-breathing
  5. Turn off your devices. Allow yourself to unplug entirely. Maybe consider deactivating your automatic news updates, or deleting the Facebook app from your phone. Set limits on your news consumption by mapping out a given time to check the news each day.
  6. Find time for humor. Is there a show that makes you smile or laugh? Laughter is healing and helps relieve stress.
  7. Spend time with loved ones. Share your experiences and your feelings, but also make sure to find time to talk about things unrelated to the current political situation. It’s healing to talk with others who feel the same way that we do and to know that we are not alone. But it is also important to have fun and to remember that we can still enjoy the sweet things in life even when there are reasons to be concerned.

In conclusion,

In order to manage the stress that so many of us are feeling, seek balance. This means finding ways to be proactive about the things that you can change or that you have control over, but also accepting the things that are beyond your control. And in the midst of it all, remember to take care of yourself in the ways that work best for you.

Source URL: https://fundingforgood.org/fundraising-and-the-serenity-prayer/

Source URL: https://fundingforgood.org/fundraising-and-the-serenity-prayer/

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the stress or anxiety that you feel, and you need some extra help, a therapist can help you to process your feelings. They can give you a space to feel heard, which in itself can be healing and empowering. They can help give you tools to manage your stress so that it doesn’t leak into other areas of your life or prevent you from leading a healthy day-to-day. Sometimes the best form of self-care is knowing when we need to reach out for external support.

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:

(2017, Feb. 15). Many Americans stress about future of our nation, new APA Stress in American survey reveals. Retreived from: http://apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/stressed-nation.aspx

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

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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